Commuter woes

Renee Julienne M. Karunungan

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Commuter woes
'Commuting is not a simple issue of travel, it is an issue of respect for human dignity and freedom'
 I commute everyday. I have taken every possible mode of  transportation there is in the city – bus, van, fx, train,  tricycle, pedicab – name it and I’ve probably gotten on it.  So, like every Filipino commuter, I experience, everyday, a  range of emotions – anger, courage, excitement, joy – that  comes with commuting.
There’s the anger that comes when someone else steals the jeep you’ve been waiting for, or when you can’t get out of the train because people won’t give way, or when the conductor yells, “Maluwag pa, maluwag pa! (There’s still a lot of space!)” and you wonder where this wide, magical space is when clearly, the only space left is the breathing space you have.
There’s the courage you must have when the driver yells at you for being too slow in getting on or off the bus or jeep, moving the vehicle even before your feet have touched ground; or when you need to brave people on the train to get that coveted spot inside. There’s the sadness and guilt you feel when an elderly or a person with disability is not given priority. Then there’s also joy and excitement when you realize that the train is empty, that the bus is clean, that there are no large passengers in the jeepney (which means all of you can seat comfortably).
These are only some of the scenarios which people go through everyday. Commuting is a roller coaster of emotions, and a roller coaster which one does not have to ride everyday.

There’s a meme going around Facebook with a photo of people inside the train and which said, “Papasok kang estudyante, lalabas kang mandirigma (You will enter as a student and exit as a warrior).” And one of my friends recently posted a status message, “Mauubos ang kabataan ko sa traffic (My youth will be wasted on traffic).” Both of these made me laugh but also made me realize that too many people are already angered by the state of public transportation in the Philippines.

How many years do we spend in traffic and and in commuting? How many hours do we waste on the road in a day when we could have done something more productive, when we could have spent it with our friends and family? We laugh at it but it is no laughing matter. We are angry, we are annoyed, we don’t deserve this and we are now saying, enough is enough.

Can you imagine what people go through everyday to get to our destinations? It’s as if we put one foot on the grave, as if it were just a matter of time until we get into an accident. How can this line of thinking be normal? How can we go out of our houses and pray to the heavens that we might not meet an accident, when it is our right to be protected by the State from the kind of road accidents we fear? This shouldn’t be our life.

We shouldn’t be on the road with death staring us in the face, the Grim Reaper beside us on the train, bus, or jeep. People should always feel safe and secure — and that is the job of the government — to ensure the safety and security of every Filipino.

There is an article by Charles Montgomery entitled, “The Secrets of World’s Happiest Cities,” published in The Guardian in 2013 which ultimately says that a good transport system and urban planning make people happier.

He wrote, “So if we really care about freedom for everyone, we need to design for everyone, not only for the brave.” He also quoted Enrique Peñalosa, a politician from Bogota who redesigned the city with a more efficient transport system, who said: “We might not be able to fix the economy. But we can design the city to give people dignity, to make them feel rich. The city can make them happier.”

And what the Philippine government did not get right, they got right. Commuting is not a simple issue of travel, it is an issue of respect for human dignity and freedom. We commuters feel degraded when we ride a bus with broken and dirty seats, when we are not respected by drivers, when we have to endure getting robbed and violated by strangers. Do we deserve this? Does the government think of us so low that they would allow us to undergo such circumstances? But somehow, we’ve become desensitized by all these. A road crash is just another road crash, a death just another name on the list. It’s the reality we have to face everyday and there’s nothing we can do to change this system unless the government decides to change it.

But how can the government want for us a better transportation system when they do not understand what the public goes through? We have a government with Band-aid solutions, a government that lacks empathy for its people. And how can they empathize when they sit in their posh cars, most probably oblivious to the world around them, while the people go through the horrors of public transport.

We have government officials whose feet are not planted on the ground, who seem to live in a bubble, who cannot give what is due to the people because they do not know the people they serve. We have government officials who, when you ask them for justice for a loved one who has died in a bus crash, tell you, “We’ve already given an insurance worth 150,000 pesos,” as if life can be replaced by any amount of money.

This is why I admire government officials such as Commissioner Nederev Yeb Saño, who does not only take the MRT challenge for a day, but who goes through what almost every Filipino go through, everyday. A true public servant is one who is one with the people. It is probably high time for Secretary Jun Abaya and Chairman Winston Ginez to go through what people go through. Maybe then, when they experience the dangers people face everyday, they would understand, and reforms will be implemented fast. Erol Ozan, an author, wrote, “You can’t understand the city without using its public transportation system.”

The mandate of the government is to protect the public, not to serve themselves or the corporations which make life a living hell for the people. For if these bus companies and the MRT truly cared for the people and want to “serve the people,” then there should be no conflict of interest. If they were truly sincere about serving the people, there should be no problem in ensuring that all buses and trains are new and road worthy, that drivers undergo rigorous training, their work hours be limited, and they receive enough monthly salary and benefits.

Because until then, the public transport system is an accident waiting to happen — and it’s waiting to happen to everyone of us.

The recent probe on public transport safety, led by Senator Grace Poe, gives me hope that in time, the system will change for the better. It will be a long and winding road, but it is a road we all have to take. Senator Grace Poe was right in saying that the public deserves better. We do deserve better, and every Filipino should demand for better. We pay our taxes and the least the government can do is make us feel where our taxes go.

I dream of a day when public transport will be accessible to everyone, when going to a place will not make me fear for my life, when the only thing I will feel whenever I travel is that of security and peace. I dream of a day when people from all classes of society take public transportation, for this is when I will know that our public transport system is good enough for everyone to use. For what did Bogota mayor Enrique Peñalosa say? “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars, it’s where the rich use public transport.”

Renee Juliene Karunungan, 24, is a member of Dakila, an organization whose co-founder, Tado Jimenez, died in the Bontoc bus crash in February 2014. She is an expert commuter.

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