The Filipino commuters’ crisis
A friend of mine, after her 9-to-5 job, decided to wait until 11 at night to leave her workplace—just to avoid the rush, she said. Four hours later, she made it home. The distance of 15 kilometers or so was made uncrossable by the lines upon lines of people waiting for public transport, the surging costs of ride-hailing apps even beyond peak hours, the sheer impossibility of hailing a cab and the inherent risk to any girl traveling alone, and the sheer heaviness of traffic. There’s no such thing as peak hours or rush hour anymore: Commuting is hard in Metro Manila no matter what the time. It becomes a tradeoff between what you’re willing to spend and how much time you’re willing to waste lining up for an FX or a bus. There are times that even with P500 to spare, you still can’t book a ride. It’s no wonder commuters are so miserable; you can spend more time traveling to or from work than actually working. If the average commuter leaves home before 5 a.m. to get to work on time and makes the trip home past 10 p.m. to avoid the so-called rush hour, what’s left?
Grab seems to be doing its best. It has to, under this much scrutiny. It’s policing the drivers made social-media-famous for overcharging or the all-too-common and obnoxious practice of leaving would-be riders hanging without canceling the rides they booked. But it’s a numbers game, according to Grab Philippines head Brian Cu, with 600,000 ride demands daily and only 35,000 drivers to satisfy them. And the passengers are always on the losing end—it’s either they can’t book a ride, or they overspend when they do.
It’s not an entirely hopeless situation. We may have said goodbye to Uber—which is sorely missed and generally considered to be the lesser of evils when it came to ride-hailing apps—but as of today the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board has approved operations for a total of five of these companies, with the goal of challenging the monopoly that Grab has on the market. But we can’t fail to notice that in doing so, the government is expecting these companies to relieve the burden on the Filipino commuter, a band-aid solution if there ever was one, because we don’t necessarily take cabs for the sake of blowing money on a solo ride. It’s most often because the lines and the general inconvenience of public transport are a huge deterrent.
Bridges and bypass roads under the “Build, build, build” project are expected to improve the situation, with the Department of Public Works and Highways claiming to foresee a “drastic improvement” in road traffic conditions by 2020. There are also reports that traffic has improved slightly on Edsa in the last month. But it seems that even with better traffic, we still can’t help our commuters find an immediate way to go from point to point without them enduring the Hunger Games for flagging down rides or getting on jeeps or buses. A recent example: A road incident last Monday was enough to cause hours of traffic, with commuters forced to walk kilometers to get home.
Maybe more trains, better trains, or new trains in other areas are the solution, but these aren’t going to happen in the next six months, so in the meantime there’s an unreasonable drain on commuters’ time, productivity and income, as well as a real and unavoidable cause of unhappiness. And those who opt to buy cars to avoid commuting—described by many Filipinos as the “worst part” of their day—are not helping, but just contributing to Metro Manila’s “carmageddon.” App-based transport services themselves add to the traffic, with up to 15,000 cars added on the road per day. It’s a vicious cycle, and not one to be improved by infrastructure alone, or by regulating ride-hailing apps which are privately owned and whose prices aren’t subject to strict regulation.
It’s time to stop blaming Grab and other private companies for what should be a government responsibility.
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