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Saturday, April 4, 2020
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I struck gold the other day.

My nugget didn’t come from under that polluted river in Del Monte, though. It came driving by, and his name was Mang Ben.

Mang Ben is a cab driver unlike any I’ve seen. Unlike the regular cabbie, he didn’t drive like a maniac. He drove with the efficiency of any other cabbie, but he doesn’t seem to have a score to settle with the brake pedal. He doesn’t screech to a stop nor does he remind you of how it feels to be on a bumper car.

And most important of all, Mang Ben’s meter charged me a little below than what I normally pay for a ride from the house in Roosevelt to the office in Port Area. And I got to the office faster than I normally would have. (If you happen to chance upon his taxi–2CM plate no. PVX 753–hail it!)

A piece of work, that one. Wish there were more of him around. But considering how expensive gasoline is getting, I seriously doubt it.

And on October 16 we should all reserve a little more from our daily allowance for our taxi rides. The new, higher rate for cabs, including the more popular FX taxis, will be taking effect. The new flag-down rate for regular taxis is P30 while the minimum fare for the FX taxi will be P15.

Unlike in other fare increases, though, it’s the drivers who are up in arms. The FX drivers, actually. Not because they’re worried that a more expensive ride would make passengers opt for the jeepney, of course. I doubt that even a P10 increase would cause that.

What the drivers are worried about are the new regulations the government wants to implement. The Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) wants to rationalize the operations of the FX taxis. This means that they’d be operating more like the regular taxis.

If the government has its way, the FX taxi wouldn’t be allowed to pick passengers randomly along the way. The payment scheme wouldn’t be on a per head basis either. What the government wants to happen is that they pick passengers up from a pre-designated point—say, SM City—and deliver them all to a specific destination, like Kalaw Street in Manila. Actually, there already is a terminal on Kalaw; the FX taxis there bring people home to Fairview, Project 8 and Project 6. Commuters pay for the entire way–P25 for those going to Project 8–even if you get off somewhere along the way.

Another innovation the government wants to introduce is for the FX taxis not to allow people to sit at the back end, which generally accommodates four adults.

The drivers oppose these new regulations because, obviously, it’ll affect their daily earnings. Not even a P5-increase would compensate for the minimum P40 they earn from the people sitting at the back.

Also, they’re worried that it would give traffic enforcers another excuse to give them a ticket. It’s not the citation they’re worried about really, it’s the grease money they say a number of enforcers expect to be paid.

One FX driver, he says his name is Sonny, is thoroughly miffed at an existing regulation preventing him from sticking a signboard at his windshield. He said it’s mighty inconvenient for him and the rest like him to be holding the signboard by the hand and flashing it at prospective passengers. It’s a driving hazard, he says.

And the other regulations the government wants?

Sonny says it’s more an inconvenience for everybody since people would be forced to commute to an FX terminal, probably via a jeep, just to get a ride. They’ll be paying double, spend more time commuting.

Taking it all from their point of view, we all have to agree that their arguments are sound. It’s a hassle to change what we’ve all gotten used to.

One of the bosses, also an FX regular, said it would be more convenient and practical for government to allow FX taxis to operate like air-conditioned jeepneys with a specific route and allowed to pick up passengers at random points in between.

Don’t a lot of us agree? This is how many, especially during off-peak hours, are doing anyway and it’s more convenient for the average commuter as well.

The LTFRB has a lot of explaining to do before FX drivers and operators agree to accept the new regulations. I’m sure the drivers and FX operators are hoping for a compromise with the LTFRB.

As a commuter, though, restricting FX passengers to four is a mighty attractive proposition. Who hasn’t at one point gone numb from the knee down because one of your seatmates is bigger than average?  Or gotten into an argument with the driver who’s insisting that the fare from Lawton to Pantranco is P20?

Forest Gump said life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. Riding an FX is also like opening a box of chocolates. The driver and the ride is always one big surprise.

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