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Young Blood

Enduring the PNR commute

/ 05:03 AM December 12, 2019

I have been riding the Philippine National Railways (PNR) for about five months, and I probably will be doing this for the next three years.

I’m studying in Manila, and this mode of transportation truly saves me time and money, given the vast difference in fares compared to buses, and the long commute thanks to the traffic.

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However, while the PNR rarely experiences malfunctions unlike the MRT, it also has its share of delays and canceled rides that go unannounced.

Filipinos mostly rely on cheap fares and fast commutes, but people’s transport plans are screwed over many times by such inconveniences that could have been avoided if only the government has thought of providing long-term instead of band-aid solutions that only pose possible dangers to commuters.

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I wonder why the PNR hasn’t been receiving as much flak and attention in the media as the other transport modes. Is it because its problems are common occurrences that are already considered normal?

The trains have an hourly schedule in every station starting from Alabang to Tutuban.

The second trip, which comes from Laguna, arrives in Alabang at 6 a.m. By that time, every wagon will be full because it’s rush hour. This particular schedule is absolutely dreadful, with every wagon cramped with passengers, mostly workers and students.

You can’t rely on other stations like Bicutan and FTI, where more passengers are waiting to get on. Once inside, you no longer need to hold on to the railings of the train, because you will be face to face with your fellow passengers and forced to inhale the air the others have exhaled.

The same thing happens during the 5 p.m. rush hour.

Last October, I witnessed two people lose consciousness because of the heat inside. It was supposed to be an air-conditioned train, but it felt like the heater was on instead. (There are two fares indicated—one for the air-conditioned coaches and one for a normal train, but you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.)

Ideally, commuters who can no longer get in on the train just wait for another schedule, or desperately try to find an alternate route. But most of the time, many passengers will still try to fit in regardless of how densely packed the car is. Luckily, no physical fight ever occurs because it’s so overcrowded.

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The saddest part is, in my five-month ride, no one has dared question why they need to endure this situation. Most people laugh it off, almost as if the experience brings them closer together.

But together in what? In a shared struggle caused by an incompetent government? In the idea that the lower classes deserve such dismal social services?

“Okay lang ’yan. At least walang traffic,” some would say.

But for commuters like me who rely on the PNR as the main mode of transportation, it’s annoying to arrive at the station and find that the schedule for the next train will be in three hours. With traffic everywhere, people like me plan trips in advance, sometimes adjusting sleep to fit the schedule.

So, without any option, sometimes you have to take an earlier schedule, because who knows if the subsequent trips are going to be canceled again? That time spent being unnecessarily early could have been an extra stay in bed to catch up on sleep.

Furthermore, it’s anxiety-inducing to wait for delayed trains, especially if you’re under a tight schedule. Sometimes, trains would stop midstation for unexpected repairs or “fixing.”

Such instances wouldn’t matter that much if they’re rare, but they do happen frequently.

The daily mess at the PNR has been normalized so much that people just tend to brush it all off. Yes, the trains are cheap and can save us time by avoiding traffic, but the experience costs us something else. It robs us of comfort, our will to work, our physical health.

Maybe for some, this might reek of entitlement, but we are paying taxes for such poor services. Where does our taxpayer money go? To a cauldron? What benefit does that cauldron offer to the rest of us? That money could have been used to fix the PNR’s broken machines, clean the system up and add more cars.

Riding the PNR has shown me how Filipinos would rather endure the indignities and inconveniences of the most basic social services that they paid for and should be benefiting from.

* * *

Drex Le Jaena, 18, is a journalism student at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

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TAGS: commuting, Drex Le Jaena, Metro Manila traffic, PNR, Young Blood
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