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No Free Lunch

A long wait at Bay 8

/ 12:14 AM October 27, 2015

I FLEW into Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia 3) from Legazpi City late morning last Friday, rushing to catch up with an important meeting in Makati. My driver was just across the street on Andrews Avenue in front of Resorts World when I phoned him on my way out. But what I thought would take him just a couple of minutes to get to me took one hour and 15 minutes that morning. I missed my meeting altogether, and was left idly watching life go by at Bay 8 on the terminal’s arrival driveway.

That wasn’t my first delay at that U-turn to Naia 3 around the large rotunda on that stretch of road, where construction of the long-awaited Naia Expressway has dragged on for what feels like ages. It happens every day, at no particularly predictable time. More than a year ago, while caught in the same gridlock there, I texted a senior executive at the Metro Manila Development Authority to ask if the MMDA couldn’t do anything about it. He replied that he would bring my message to the attention of the concerned MMDA official, even as he clarified that it’s the Pasay City government’s responsibility.

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Whether from the city government, the MMDA, or even the airport authorities who have as much stake in the problem, no traffic enforcer was ever in sight in the many instances I’ve been stuck there. It defies logic that a well-known daily traffic problem has not merited the attention of authorities enough to deploy sufficient traffic enforcers to untangle perennially gridlocked traffic there. At the very least, there must be a way to keep airport-bound U-turning traffic from being held back by vehicles proceeding on to the consistently congested stretch beyond the rotunda. It’s unacceptable for government to simply ask for patience with the “temporary” (yet seemingly endless) inconvenience while the Naia Expressway is being built—when it’s clear that a little active traffic management could improve things even now.

In the end, my long wait at Bay 8 proved to be an engaging if mostly saddening experience, as various interesting scenes played before my eyes, illustrative of what we Filipinos like to tag as “only in the Philippines.”

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There was that taxi whose lady passengers, apparently departing travelers, dropped off at the arrival level, for some reason. I could guess why. A friend once told me that a good way to avoid the long queues at the security entrances to the terminal’s check-in area is to enter at the arrival level, where the security entrance to the building has no such queues. It may be a longer walk to the check-in counters, but the time saved could be substantial. As those ladies were probably already running late for the same reason my driver was taking so long to reach me, I was silently congratulating them for their good idea. Count on us Filipinos to be resourceful at times of need, I thought to myself.

But what got me was the way several airport guards quickly swarmed around the hapless taxi driver the moment he stopped to let his passengers off. It amazed me how quickly they all appeared, dropping whatever else they were doing to converge on this one wayward driver. It turns out that regular taxis (and recently, Uber cars as well), are banned from the airport arrival area, where only accredited taxis—which are of course much more expensive—are allowed. A guard kept hysterically summoning their chief on his two-way radio for 15 minutes, while his eager companions had abandoned their posts to block the offending taxi from leaving. I don’t know what they eventually did to the taxi driver, but the way the guards ganged up on him, it’s as if he had committed the crime of the century. Count on us Filipinos to have government itself stifle market competition, I thought to myself.

I’ve always been peeved at cars standing curbside at our airport arrival driveways long before their arriving passenger shows up, preventing vehicles of those already there from coming up close to load their bags. I noticed how inconsistent and arbitrary the guards were about enforcing the no-waiting rule at the arrival driveway. For some cars, the guards looked the other way, yet for others, they were relentless.

I also witnessed inconsiderate drivers parking helter-skelter, hogging two lanes as they loaded their arriving passenger’s bags—and the guards couldn’t care less. Little wonder that too many of us openly defy rules and laws, a natural result when there’s inconsistent enforcement, or none at all. Count on us Filipinos to take laws and rules as mere suggestions, I thought to myself.

Then arrived a convoy of four large SUVs, hogging the curbside for a good 10 minutes, and spewing offensive exhaust fumes into my face as I sat on the low concrete stump that had been my spectator’s seat for a good hour already by then. The no-waiting rule was clearly not about to be enforced by the guards here, what with intimidating white-shirted men emerging from each car. When their lone principal finally arrived, he turned out to be a prominent former politician—and the same airport guards who had just treated a hapless taxi driver like a common criminal this time timidly saluted the former official, military style, as if he had never left office. Count on us Filipinos to be easily intimidated by power, and to brandish that power when we have it, I thought to myself.

As for my MMDA friend, I texted him again last Friday. His reply: “The problem with MMDA is it’s run by politicians… I’m hoping (they’d) appoint a technical person who understands the dynamics of traffic planning and management so that issues and concerns like yours will be solved.”

Amen to that.

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TAGS: airport, Flight, MMDA, Naia, opinion, Taxi, terminal, traffic
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