THERE was a time when driving a car meant having very little to complain about as far as traversing the city was concerned. I mean, if you’re not using public transport, and you plan your days around avoiding the traffic on the main thoroughfares, i.e. EDSA, then it used to be easy enough to move from say, Mandaluyong to Manila to Quezon City.
At the very least, there was a time when it would have been embarrassing to complain.
And then there’s the present, when you know in your gut that our streets are on crisis mode, and no one is safe.
Save for those in their fancy SUVs that can traverse floods, or can resist bullets. Say, the Hummer Kris gave Boy, the Prado of the Chief of the Philippine National Police.
Ah, the rich and powerful have all the luck.
The worst public transport
There is now no reprieve. Not anywhere.
The woes and dangers are aplenty and apparent in our badly-run and privatized trains. That this government washes its hands of responsibility and pushes it deeper into privatization is just our bad luck.
Where public transport is run like a business, our buses and jeeps are ill-maintained and unchecked, its workers suffering under the worst labor conditions. With no daily earnings unless they are able to first earn a specific amount for those who own these vehicles, jeep and bus drivers are forced to turn in long hours on the wheel, and know only to use our roads like maniacs – because it is equal to food in their children’s bellies.
Anyone who goes on EDSA and deals with buses, or jeeps on any other road, would know of the kind of recklessness the urgency of hunger brings. And it is an urgency that can be dealt with by the businesses that run our public transport, by changing this system of hiring drivers on a contractual basis, and giving them their due as workers who serve the public on a daily basis.
Of course, a change such as this would only happen if government were to step in and demand it of public transport businesses. The government needs to demand for compassion for workers and commuters from the people who run public transport.
The government needs to have the balls to do this. And we all know this government does not have that.
We are being told that the reason for the traffic on EDSA is the number of private vehicles that ply it every day. Now I’m not one to fight with the idea that there are too many who own cars in this country. I am one to wonder whether that is a problem at all.
Because there is also the fact that with the horrid business models for our public transport system, bus and jeepney drivers are forced into a kind of driving that is undisciplined and dangerous, and should be banned from our roads altogether. Say, the fact that buses are allowed to swerve with abandon, from any lane to another, loading passengers on one side of the street and swerving to an opposite lane to make it to the flyover that will allow them to rush past other vehicles.
Say, the fact that cars cannot go on certain lanes for buses, but buses can go on any lane at all. The truth that while the MMDA officers are quick to stop any car that swerves, they will watch as buses do the same.
Say, jeeps that stop where they please because they can, loading and unloading passengers and endangering their lives in the process.
This kind of unchecked unsafe undisciplined driving does not just happen on EDSA. It happens on every smaller road that leads to main thoroughfares. And yes, it is the reason for the horrendous traffic.
The evil of development
The brilliant idea that removing private vehicles from EDSA would solve traffic woes comes from Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) official Ariel Inton. He also says that private vehicles can just go on the side roads anyway, so might as well disallow them from using EDSA.
It would be funny were it not so utterly and precariously delusional. It is also obviously ungrounded in what ails our streets and our public transport, and what truly endangers the public that goes out to these streets every day.
Because in the past two months we have seen what less than 30 minutes of rain does to our streets. And it is far far from being passable and safe, and we’re not even talking about the traffic.
We are talking floods. We are talking flash floods, where you barely have time to make a detour and run from the rising waters that the first 10 minutes of heavy rains bring.
On Thursday, driving from Intramuros to Mandaluyong via Sta. Mesa Manila, the rains started to pour just as I was getting on Kalentong-Shaw Boulevard from P. Sanchez. This is a street that I grew up on
passing to and from home, but there was nothing familiar or nostalgic about watching the flood waters go up, and very quickly, on Shaw Boulevard.
The traffic was slow, with jeeps stopping where they wished, a construction truck plying the street, and one could only watch in horror as the water became gutter deep in less than 10 minutes. As I went up Shaw, I saw how the waters were flowing down towards Kalentong. I watched as it went up on the stretch near Puregold and S&R. I feared if the rain continued it would go even higher. I wondered about how bad it would become on Kalentong.
And then one realizes: it’s development, stupid. What is different about the Shaw Boulevard of my childhood and this one is that there are no more trees, no more open spaces of soil and gardens. What’s there are restaurants and condominiums, and concrete. And apparently no sense of a drainage system, no sense to ask the question: where will the water go when it rains?
And one realizes it is these simple questions that matter, and these are the ones that are left unanswered, or are dismissed, for the priority is “development” and “the economy.”
“Maganda na siguro ang problema na binabanggit na ma-trapik sa EDSA, tama po yan, dahil marami ang nasa kalsada, buhay na buhay ang ating economiya kaysa naman walang trapik sa EDSA dahil wala ng makabili ng gasolina na patakbuhin ang kanyang sasakyan.”
That’s the President of the Philippines, ladies and gentlemen, spinning the bane of the public’s existence, the dangerous daily commute, into something good.
We have all the luck.