I AM writing this in the hope that mobility becomes a prominent campaign issue in the coming elections. We need to select the best people for the task. We need to know their understanding of the problem and what their short-, medium- and long-term prescriptions are. We should ask candidates why mobility conditions for the average Filipino are so poor and what they will do to make transportation convenient, efficient, safe and affordable for all Filipinos.
Steven Higashide, citing Harvard's Equality of Opportunity project in his book Better Buses, Better Cities, said: "A long commute is one of the biggest barriers to escaping poverty." The vast majority of Filipinos are dependent on walking, cycling and public transport. When public transport capacity is insufficient and services are unreliable, when other sustainable travel modes such as walking and cycling are unsafe or difficult, jobs, schools and basic services become inaccessible. The most affected are the poor.
Even those highly skilled are impacted when mobility is constrained. It is not uncommon to hear of people who forego the best job offers simply because the commute will be too costly or stressful. It is tragic that many Filipinos are giving up "dream" careers because travel will be financially or physically unsustainable. When a country fails to nurture and support the potential of its human capital, its most valuable resource, leaders need to find out what is wrong and work on a solution.
When the environment for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport is poor, the sad result is that most Filipinos aspire to shift to private motor vehicles. This tendency has been further magnified with the Covid-19 pandemic. If the preference for cars and motorcycle use persists (because public transport and active transport remain low quality options), we can expect worsening traffic and pollution, diminished mobility and further deterioration in the quality of urban environments. This trend, this downward spiral, needs to be reversed; it should be one of the goals of the next administration.
The objective should be to improve the attractiveness and quality of public transport, walking and cycling so that most Filipinos will prefer these efficient and sustainable modes for daily travel over using a car or motorcycle. This calls for leaders who will make this objective one of their priorities.
Here are attributes we should be looking for in our leaders:
– We need leaders who recognize that mobility is a basic human need, deserving of priority attention and public sector support.
– We need leaders who have firsthand knowledge of the harsh conditions that Filipino commuters experience and appreciate the urgency of introducing meaningful improvements.
– We need leaders who are keenly interested in how efficiently and safely people and goods move around, rather than focused on how fast vehicles travel on our roads.
– We need leaders who believe that more people walking, cycling and using public transport (and fewer people dependent on private motor vehicles) is good for the environment, the economy, urban mobility and public health.
– We need leaders who will measure success not by the number of projects launched or completed but by how the journeys of everyday commuters are made convenient, safe and affordable.
– We need leaders who see the importance of supporting and prioritizing active transport (walking and cycling).
– We need leaders who will establish laws, policies and institutions that promote sustainable mobility.
– We need leaders who will balance the interests of the riding public and the public transport industry, seeking "win-win" solutions that raise the quality of public services while enabling the public transport industry to achieve stability and financial sustainability.
– We need leaders who will work to reorient and reverse "car-centric" policies, regulations and mindsets.
– We need leaders who understand that roads and bridges need to be placed in the service of the majority without access to private motor vehicles, even if it means that some road space for cars is re-purposed for wider sidewalks, protected bike lanes and dedicated lanes for public utility vehicles.
– We need leaders who will give special attention to the mobility requirements of vulnerable road users and persons with disabilities, in part by ensuring compliance of all public and private institutions with Philippine accessibility laws.
– We need leaders who lead by example and will regularly use public transport, walking or cycling for their daily travel.
Let's ask candidates how they will improve our mobility during their term in office. If you agree that mobility is a priority issue in the coming elections, please find out if your candidates satisfy the above requirements. If not, let them know what you expect from them.
Robert Y. Siy is a development economist, city and regional planner, and public transport advocate. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter at @RobertRsiy