Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Government should get real on car pooling

WILL the country’s transport managers please get serious with car or van pooling? It’s the best way to help reduce the stress of rush-hour commuting that perennially plagues private and public sector workers.

Consider this scene every morning in Bacoor, Cavite: between 7-9 am, commuters are standing by the road hoping to get an AUV or FX taxi that could bring them either to Lawton in Manila, Baclaran or Makati. (This route is not served by public transit like the bus because traffic volume is high only during rush hours and therefore not a economically viable route for a bus franchise.) Once the FX arrives, commuters swarm around the vehicle like locusts, jostling and snarling at each other in order to get a seat. Those who are not quick enough continue waiting for the next FX, hoping they could have a seat next time. Those who are in a hurry are forced to hail a taxi and spend hundreds of pesos of their hard-earned minimum wage. Those who can’t afford the taxi take several jeepney rides to the next transport breaks, hoping to get another public utility vehicle to their destinations. These people end up taking three or four rides to get to their office, arriving to their offices late, their wallets drained, disheveled, tired, with low morale, and smelling like stevedores at the North Harbor.

This scene is repeated in other bedroom communities all around Metro Manila each day. Yet the government’s transport planners and local government units behave as if these things never happen. Worse, they seem to believe that this harsh commuting life for workers, mostly lower-middle-class cubbyhole dwellers, is just another fact of Philippine life that the unlucky ones have to put up with each day. It’s time the government, particularly the Department of Transportation and Communications, looks at this problem carefully.

The last decade saw the proliferation of “bedroom communities” at the fringes of Metro Manila as well as the towns bordering the National Capital Region (e.g. Antipolo in Rizal and Bacoor, Dasmarinas, and Imus in Cavite; and San Pedro, Binan, and Calamba in Laguna; and several towns in Bulacan). They are called bedroom communities because they cater to the housing needs of employees from the private and public sectors working at the NCR. They are literary called bedrooms because each day, hundreds of thousands of employees shuttle home at night for rest and sleep and return the next day to their work in Metro Manila’s central business districts.

Imagine commuting for four hours each day from home to work? Yes, that’s the average time many of them spend each day—two hours in the morning from home to office and two hours back home—because of traffic congestion, inefficiency of the transport system, bad roads, and poor traffic management. It’s a horrible and backbreaking labor, especially for those who don’t have aircon private vehicles—not to mention the health hazard, as proven by abundant anecdotal evidence of commuters getting kidney-related ailments from having to control their bladders for hours on end. And they comprise the vast majority of these harassed commuters.

In Europe and America, commuters are largely middle-class professionals who have nice cars and SUVs. They are in the suburbs because they have the money to afford the best of both worlds: a nice, high-paying job at the city center and a nice sprawling house at the suburb where they could have barbecue and party by the pool on a weekend.

In the Philippines’ megacities, particularly in the NCR, home-office commuters are largely poor minimum wage earners who have no other choice except to get a crowded box of a GSIS-financed house in some backwaters of Cavite and Laguna. The rich ones here also have the best of both worlds: huge houses and condominums in posh enclaves of Bel-Air, Valleverde, Loyola, and San Miguel so they don’t have to share the crowded highways with the riffraffs on weekdays, while maintaining palatial homes in Tagaytay where they hie off to escape the pressure of urban life during weekends and holidays. The point here is that this oppressive commuting is largely victimizing the poor and the powerless, something that the government should address immediately as a matter of social justice.

Necessarily, the woes of commuting are transport congestion problems that are better solved through a combination of measures like traffic demand and supply management (e.g., “number-coding,” maximization of vehicular flow through land use restrictions, improving road networks, among others). But there are practical, doable things that the government can do that does not require public expenditure. One of them is the institutionalization of car or van pools within mega-Manila, comprising the NCR and adjacent provinces like Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, and Cavite. It’s a commonsensical thing that blends well with the Filipino culture of pakikisama and bayanihan. Sad to say, DOTC continues to ignore this practical measure. In fact, the government discourages this practice. Regularly, the traffic cops arrest and penalize those who take their neighbors in their vans to their destinations for being “colorums” or without franchise.

The solution to this, of course, is giving more franchises to more FX and AUVs, but the DOTC has been deliberately limiting the number of franchises supposedly to prevent traffic congestion. In reality, the DOTC wouldn’t really know the optimal number of franchises for lack of data and planning. Yet this discriminatory policy has been victimizing hundreds of thousands of commuters each day. If DOTC indeed can’t grant more franchises, therefore, it had better institutionalize van or car pooling to address this perennial problem of transport shortages during rush hours in bedroom communities. It’s only a matter of changing its mindset— from that of a cop eager to command and control the transport system to a service- and people-oriented institution that is willing to serve people’s real needs. Once this change in mindset is achieved, the implementation aspects are minor details that could be solved through common sense and experimentation.


Anonymous said...

Nice opinion! Thanks for airing out the opinion of most commuters.

Anonymous said...

Nice comment! Thanks for airing out the opinion of most commuters.