THE transport and mobility problem that we have plunged ourselves into in Metro Manila is not going to be solved overnight even if we elect the most efficient officials in sight. This is a situation that has come about after years of no planning, neglect of the facts on the ground and mismanagement of maintenance. There is one more and bigger cause in the mix – the total lack of discipline of people who use our streets as motorists, pedestrians, public utility drivers as well as local officials and local populations. Anything goes for their own purposes and never mind the neighbor.
Here are the indicators of such indiscipline. Buses and jeeps stop where the passenger requests them to stop. Nowhere in the world is this an on-going operation of public utility vehicles. Even taxis elsewhere can’t stop in the middle of the street, on pedestrian lanes, on corners, or just about anywhere (opposite on-coming traffic even) that will impede the normal flow of traffic as witnessed here. And these vehicles do not bother to stop at the curb. In the middle of the street is the usual mode where passengers embark or disembark putting themselves and everyone else in grave danger of an accident.
Traffic infractions are just part of the game of driving. Overtaking on the right side of vehicles, tailgating, lane switching, beating the traffic lights, stalling traffic by occupying the traffic box in crossroads that should be left unoccupied so as not to cause an impediment to vehicles coming the opposite way.
The lack of courtesy is quite apparent as giving way is virtually a no-no for those behind the wheel of whatever type of vehicle. Pedestrians are treated as intruders even on crosswalks. Bigger vehicles use their size to intimidate the smaller ones from their right of way. Armored vehicles feel they do not have to follow rules because they think their mission is more important that anyone else’s.
There are more examples of indiscipline but the point of them here is to show that they are obstacles to the free flow of traffic.
One other cause is the rampant increase in public utility vehicles, many of them, colorum, that add to the already crowded streets. Private vehicles have proliferated even more without concern for parking them. Actually, without a rigorous application of sanctions for indiscipline as cited above, no improvement of roads or management of the behavior of public or private vehicles can be expected. There will just be the usual violations and the usual negative consequences and the same bogged down traffic and mobility.
Other obvious factors that have been allowed to pile up are the use of public streets as parking lots. Even people who build sizeable and expensive homes provide minimal facilities for parking their vehicles in them. Also, families just stay in the same premises even as they multiply and the vehicles they use multiply too. They enlarge their living premises and shrink their parking spaces. They then think nothing of spilling out into the streets. The idea is that the street outside their home is their parking lot or somehow pertains to them. Yet now more than ever neighborhood streets are needed as thruways so as not to clog the main streets and be alternative paths to destinations. But with parked cars along both sides (double parking is done with nary a pang of conscience), these streets become as paralyzed as the main avenues.
The thought has been expressed to have all car owners provide private parking areas for their cars and not use public streets. This will surely bring up an accusation as a bias against the “poor” who just the same own a vehicle compared to the poor who do not. But let us leave that to proposed legislation and the debate that will entail.
One reason is everyone wishes to have a vehicle of one’s own is the dismal state of public transportation as well as the user-unfriendly streets where sidewalks are virtual ruins or virtual shops or clogged with personal possessions of those who live in front or near them. It seems the use of sidewalks has been forgotten, their premises so neglected, and the encumbrances on them so common that people have forgotten what they are for which is walking from one destination to another. And that they should not be used as private property. As it is, if there are inveterate walkers they end up walking on the streets because the sidewalks cannot take them for the obstructions and objects on them. Walking on the streets instead of the sidewalks means more crowded streets with people at that which are accidents waiting to happen.
But let us look at the positive side because lately there are glimmers of positive light in this scene. One is that some of the light rail lines have been bidded out of government agency hands with the new managers promising at least for the nonce operating escalators and elevators as well as usable and adequate number of restrooms. These are the easy parts of what they have to contend with which will be fixing the rail lines for safety and durability, bringing more cars to accommodate the riding public, safety concerns like working signals which obviously will take time. So we hope and pray that the simple non-rocket science improvements mentioned earlier and that will mean a lot to users will come soon.
Also, there is now a universal ticket that can be used electronically for all lines or most lines.
And if the Highway Patrol Group implements discipline in a firm and understandable way as it has so far done and expands to more areas, maybe some better behavior that will effect better mobility might come.
A neighbor took the light rail transit to Baclaran from Mandaluyong. He said he heard all kinds of strange noises along the way and it was slower than it had been the last time he rode which was years ago. But he got there. What he raved about was that being a senior citizen, he was in a car with senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and that was quite comfortable. In fact it is humane just as the special accommodations for women are. But he felt sorry for those who had to use the ordinary cars. They were crowded and uncomfortable. If humanitarian considerations come to the fore in all aspects of our public use of streets and public utility vehicles as well as with the private motorists, there will be a quantum leap for the better in our mobility. Humanitarian considerations include discipline by the way. Let us start there.