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Revolution in the commute

opinion / Columnists
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Revolution in the commute

/ 05:08 AM September 08, 2017

Taking public transportation in the Philippines is like rushing headlong into a war with the elements. You do battle with the mind-numbing traffic, the crazed drivers, and the illness-inducing pollution. You play deadly patintero with unpredictable vehicles and road signs that are only arbitrarily obeyed. If you’re extra unlucky, you also have to outmaneuver the hordes of other commuters ready to kill for space on the jeepney, bus, or train (in my city, we call this elimination-style boarding Hunger Games).

So it’s hardly a surprise that at those first glimmers of hope named Grab and Uber, Pinoy commuters saw a chance to revolt. They found a better option and they’re rallying behind it, legal holdups be damned. Such is a revolution that ought to extend beyond taxi services and into other areas of Philippine public transport.

Take jeepneys, for instance. Long have passengers complained of reckless jeepney drivers, smoke-belching units, and unforgiving loading routines at rush hour. However, these grievances hardly ever get louder than grumbles because most have no choice. For now, at least, there is no challenge to the status quo: If you have to take the jeepney, you’re virtually doomed.

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Should there be an innovation to the way jeepneys operate—or an innovation that shows how jeepneys ought to operate—commuters would jump on that wagon, so to speak. That kind of challenge, backed by public clamor, is what would prompt service providers in the transportation industry to eliminate the inconveniences they have traditionally allowed to persist. It’s competition that pushes providers to improve.

Of course, the challenge that is brought on by transport network companies (TNCs) such as Grab and Uber is something of a miracle. It took an entirely new and out-of-the-box business model to make our taxi drivers reconsider their little power plays.

If a cab driver insists on a fixed rate instead of running the meter, the customer would no longer have to bargain and beg.

If a cab driver denies service to a customer because their destination is “not ideal” for some reason, the customer would no longer have to wait eons for a saving grace. All because taxis now have a revolutionary contender.

It’s tough to imagine something as extraordinary happening with our jeepneys and buses. Currently, what we can bank on and support are small incremental changes in policies and regulations, such as stringent traffic enforcement. Yes, efforts like these have repeatedly proven superficial and short-lived, but perhaps with stronger pressure from the public—the way we have been pressuring our lawmakers to let TNCs stay—these incremental improvements can be sustained and can snowball.

Further, changes also need to happen among ourselves, the commuters. Really, it’s elementary Good Manners and Right Conduct to board and alight at designated stops, to queue, to obey traffic rules. But no sane commuter now, for instance, would willingly fall in line when everyone else is racing each other at the jeepney-stop, bus-stop, or train-station Hunger Games.

In that way, it is we who perpetuate the very issues we complain about, and it’s almost as if a queue—a very basic, effortless waiting line—could be the innovation, the miracle that should win us half the war. And yet we just can’t bring ourselves to do it. Until we do, we keep muscling our way through the throng while grumbling about it.

Public transport has always been rife with points for improvement, and certainly, as long as there are people using this service, there will always be grievances. But when this basic utility has become, as a friend has put it, “a threat to one’s physical and mental wellbeing” (and that’s even before 8 in the morning), it’s high time some overhauls were done. We got lucky with TNCs; now, we need to effect something similar with our other trusty public utility vehicles.

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In the meantime, we load up on our vitamins, take a deep breath, and put on our face masks. It’s war out there.

hyacinthjt@gmail.com

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TAGS: commuters, grab, IAmGenM, Inquirer Opinion, Public transportation, Uber
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