'We'd be better off if everyone commutes'
I am the youngest and only girl in the family, and maybe this explains the overprotective attitude all around, though I’m not particularly proud of this lack of independence and so-called “street smarts.”
I started working for an office located in the heart of Manila early last year and learned that the quickest and cheapest way to get there was to take the train. I would walk for 15 minutes to the nearest train station, go down after over 7 stations, transfer to another train that would take me to a station that stops walking distance from our office. It costs less than P30 and a little more than an hour to get to work.
Every day is a different story, but there are staple characters in every coach. Every now and then, there would be that one person shouting profanities at everyone else for all the heavy pushing and shoving to get in and out before the double doors closed. The hurling of curses would continue and, in my head, only one of two things could happen: one of them steps off in the next station, or a wild catfight would ensue. It was always the first one though.
At times, a train would breakdown and this affects the entire system. All passengers of the defective train would be forced to alight at the nearest station. The station’s platform would then overflow with frustrated passengers using their anger as an excuse not to participate in the now inexistent queue for the next crowded trains, which can squeeze in two more passengers at most.
Sometimes, a train would breakdown so bad – a “code red” as the guards called it – that all commuters would be told to leave as no more trains would arrive. Everyone ends up standing in the middle of the highway, running after buses, jeeps, FXs, cabs, or whatever is available to get them to work.
Recently, they started the “no return policy” at the last station. It has been common practice for commuters in Magallanes, Ayala, or Buendia even, to ride the train going to the last station in Taft Avenue but not go down so they will have a sure seat when the train heads back north where they intend to go down. This is no longer possible with the new policy as all coaches are emptied at the Taft station before the passengers heading north can come in. As the coaches are emptied, the passengers are cordoned off, packed like a herd in the melting heat with the pollution and noise of EDSA in the background.
The guards try to control the crowd by shouting instructions to move faster or get in line. On the other hand, most passengers complain and argue about the long wait, the heat, and other similar discomforts. As soon as the cordon is released, on impulse, everyone runs and stampedes to get inside the train. The air conditioner will not turn on unless the train is about to leave. I usually take silent deep breaths to conserve oxygen for the long ride, but this trick is inversely proportional to how strong the coach smells of sweat or body odor. I do not recommend silent deep breaths when the air conditioner is broken.
Most times the driver is nice with a warm voice reading reminders through the PA system. "Give up your seats for the elderly, sickly, and pregnant. Do not eat inside the train. The next station is so and so."
Occasionally, there are also disgruntled drivers lecturing in a loud frustrated manner about how the passengers should not stop the doors from closing unless they want to destroy the train and hassle everyone. They are probably just as tired as the commuters since the trains are open as early as 5 am and close as late as 11 pm. Of course their loud angry pleading, together with the heat, the hard pushing, and all the passengers’ bickering under their breaths, contribute to the heavy air of fatigue, frustration, and depression.
A year and a half of taking the train every single day and I’m still not used to it. Commuting drains me even before I get to the office. It stresses me out just when I thought the day was over. At this point, you might assume I am about to tell everyone to avoid taking the train if possible, but the truth is, I encourage it.
I encourage everyone to walk out of their comfort zones and see how the rest of the country is living – how the young dreamer unfolds his small mat along the busy walkway and neatly arranges a handful of ballpens for sale to passers-by. He smiles as he fixes his products, and I pray he imagines a future of better days. I hope that as he grows up, the world is kind to him, and that he never loses that smile. (READ: Leaders who take public transportation)
I encourage everyone to try taking the train on some days, and play a part in decongesting our roads. Perhaps, this is a very small gesture, but maybe this can lessen pollution, help the environment, and tame the evolution to a lifestyle of excesses. (READ: Are your senators willing to commute?)
Just maybe, this can highlight a sense of urgency to improve our railroad system – a good alternative to building and expanding roads that takes up space. A sophisticated railroad system will also attract more tourists to explore our cities for all the history and culture they hold.
I encourage everyone to take the train, even once. Let this experience teach us to appreciate what we have, and inspire us to move, and to try and make a difference. – Rappler.com
Karen Eustaquio graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University and is from the UP College of Law. She joined a firm for a year before moving to a government post.