Transport for communities, not individuals
Imagine a country where every house is forced to have its own generator because the government views electricity as a mere personal need and not a community necessity. Imagine the air pollution caused by the millions of generators.
Imagine a country where every house has its own pump extracting water from the ground because the government views water as a mere personal need and not a community necessity. Imagine the chronic water shortage because of dried up underground water tables.
Now substitute transportation for electricity and water in these scenarios, and the imagined country becomes a real one called the Philippines.
Like electricity and water, transportation is a community necessity. When a country leaves its people to individually fend for their transportation needs, its communities suffer from severe air pollution and chronic shortage of a public utility. Neglecting the need for community transportation is no different from neglecting the need for community facilities for water and electricity.
The Philippines has largely left its people to fend for themselves in their transportation needs. For proof, there are the very long lines of office workers waiting for private commuter vans during rush hour. The public’s heavy reliance on private cars — causing traffic gridlock in the cities — is also evidence that the government has left its citizens to fend for themselves in their transportation needs.
It is true that the government provides community transportation through the Light Rail Transit (LRT 2) and the Philippine National Railways. There is also the privately owned Metro Rail Transit 3 running on Edsa, which is operated by the Department of Transportation.
But these train lines operate in Metro Manila only. For the rest of the country, or in trips between provinces, people are totally dependent on private cars or privately operated vans and buses, unlike in other countries where public trains connect provinces and distant cities.
Moreover, the enduring view of the government is that train lines are constructed to augment private transportation, when it should be the other way around. In developed countries, trains are the principal mode of transportation nationwide, and private transport merely augments farther travel from train stations.
Trains are the most efficient and egalitarian means to move people and cargo. Philippine roads require expensive and frequent repairs because corruption reduces them to substandard quality, and so they are easily damaged by heavily loaded trucks. Imagine the benefits of an extensive train network: savings in public funds because of lesser road repairs, reduction in vehicular traffic, faster movement of people and
cargo, and reduction in air pollution.
The Aquino and Duterte administrations initiated laudable moves to build more train lines in Metro Manila and Mindanao, and to revive the PNR line from Albay to La Union. But those initiatives are not enough and are excruciatingly slow in implementation.
The construction of extensive train lines all over the country should be given the highest and most urgent priority by the government, even to the extent of financing them with loans that will take generations to pay because they will benefit the many generations to come anyway. The trains in some developed countries have been operating for close to 100 years.
President Duterte has bullied and cursed his way to making certain business interests bow to his wishes. In contrast, he has so disappointingly maintained silence notwithstanding the almost daily breakdowns of MRT trains and the inadequate coaches that are making life miserable for commuters.
Last week I saw a long line of commuters waiting for a ride along a street while “Salome” was battering Metro Manila. Even with umbrellas they were getting drenched because the rain and wind were swirling. I wondered what they were thinking of the President’s deafening silence on their predicament.
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