On the Road to Progress

How to get to P. Guevarra St? I wondered after my friends and I had set a place where we could all meet and catch up on things. I knew it was somewhere in San Juan but didn’t know how to get myself from where I live to that place. As many other people of this day and age, the Internet was my go-to reference.

A map of Metro Manila popped up on the screen showing the path I should take to get to my destination. Accompanying the map was a written description: Take R-7, go straight to Yada-Yada Ave., turn right on Blah-Blah St., and so on and so forth. On the map, it looked fairly easy. I planned my trip: Take the MRT, get off at Santolan, and then just take a taxi to take me directly to the place. According to Google Maps, this almost 20km trip would more or less take me 45 minutes.

But Google Maps is not a Manileña. It is ignorant to the ills of the streets and public transportation system of the city. With the long queues that plague the MRT stations, and the insufferable traffic situation in every corner imaginable, the trip would take far longer than Google Maps had calculated. Taking the taxi, too, meant that I had to shell out a couple of hundred pesos even if the distance was only short considering how highly probable it was to be stuck in a gridlock.

carmageddon

photo: creativemanila.com

Suddenly, I terribly missed something I got to experience in my one of my travels abroad – Germany’s excellent public transportation system.

I recently had the opportunity to go to Germany a while back, and I got to visit many remarkable places during my stay there.  It has many well-preserved historical buildings, museums, restaurants, entertainment centers, shops, and tourist destinations.  It’s also clean and organized.  Despite its many attractions, the things that appealed to me the most are the simple things, the basic features that a healthy city should have – beautiful parks, sidewalks, bike lanes, (functioning!) traffic lights, pedestrian lanes, garbage bins, and the brightest star of them all, a highly efficient mass transport system.

Being used to riding only jeeps, FX, and MRT, I must admit that initially, the country’s transport system confused me.   Although commuting in other countries wasn’t new to me, it had been a long time since I did some traveling abroad.   The confusion at one point even turned into fear when I knew that I had to go places all by myself  because 1) there was no one who could accompany me tour the city and 2) I wanted to challenge myself and try something I would not typically do even if it meant getting lost and/or getting lost in translation.

Germany has various modes of public transportation: U-bahn (subway), S-bahn (railway similar to MRT), trams, buses, the ICE (regional trains), and taxis, and all are integrated (except for the taxis).   One ticket will allow you to ride any (Tickets for the ICE are a little different, though) and they can be bought from vending machines in all the U-bahn and S-bahn stations, central bus and train stations, and even inside the trams and buses themselves.  Because vending machines are widely available, there’s no more need to queue to buy tickets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Time is also highly valued there: all modes of transportation have strict schedules to follow.   When a train is meant to arrive in 3 minutes, it really is going to arrive in three minutes.  In case it arrives earlier than the intended schedule, let’s say, a minute earlier, it won’t immediately go.  Instead, it will wait for that one minute to be up; that’s the time that it would start running.

Everything is meticulously planned, and everything is religiously carried out.  Street signs are clear, and there are maps and information services available.  Their public transport system is so convenient that even if you are not familiar with the place, you can easily find your way around.  In Berlin, where I spent majority of my stay, the company that runs the transport system BVG has a website and an app, which you can visit or download.  You can plot your journey using either of the two, so you would exactly know how to get to your destination down to the last minute.  If you’re old school or don’t have a smart phone like me, a handy map will do just fine.

Transportation in and the streets of Berlin are commuter-friendly that even persons with disabilities (PWDs) and the elderly will have no difficulty traveling at all.  Not a single overpass is in sight, but pedestrian lanes are everywhere.  Traffic lights are present in almost every corner, too.  Some buses also tilt, so that it can level with the sidewalk, allowing PWDs, the elderly, and people with huge luggage, strollers, bicycles, and dogs to enter and exit the vehicle hassle-free.

I cannot express how I loved commuting in Berlin – something I cannot say for Metro Manila, unfortunately.  Whenever I was out touring Berlin,  I kept on thinking “Hey, this can be done in QC” or “Why can’t we have this feature in Manila?” or “Why can’t the city government have the political will to clean up the sidewalks?  Why can’t the government construct sidewalks?!?”

Majority of the metro is sadly unsafe for commuters and pedestrians.  Buses and jeeps act as if they own the road, and private vehicles continue to swell in number, choking the roads (and no, making them wider is not the best solution!)

traffic_nuremberg constr

Despite an on-going road repair and having only 1 lane functioning, cars in this area never got entangled with each other.  Many roads there are narrow, and yet there was never a time when I saw any one of them congested.  

If traffic is an indication of economic progress, then Metro Manila should be extremely prosperous by now.  However, that is not the case.  The city is not abundant in wealth but in countless of people constantly late for work and appointments, harassed and tired even before getting to their destinations; tons of exhaust gases that attack the lungs, and a great deal of wastage of – ironically – money.  Every day, people have to battle with this urban monster, which seems to worsen every year.  It has gotten so bad, in fact, that two months ago, many urbanites (including I) suffered several hours of horrendous gridlock, which has come to be known as “Carmageddon.”   Although heavy rain was partly to blame, it was mostly due to poor drainage system, absence of enforcers, and moreover, lack of discipline for some motorists and pedestrians alike.

Being stuck in terrible traffic is sadly becoming the norm in Metro Manila.  Road constructions and water pipe repairs that take forever to finish, jaywalkers, no proper PUV stops and stations, and poor railway maintenance are just some of the main causes of a commuter’s hellish everyday travel experience, which should NOT be.

While it is obvious that the government has not done its part in building proper infrastructures and enforcing the law, motorists and pedestrians are also to blame.  People do not know how to discipline themselves; road courtesy and consideration are brushed aside.  Motorcycles and jeeps use the sidewalks as an escape from the traffic jam.   When a person doesn’t have any parking space, she/he uses the street as her/his garage.  Drivers overtake and create their own counter flow!  Dios mio!

I remember someone telling me before that in the Netherlands, when trams arrive late even for a minute or two, people would immediately write to the authorities to express their dissatisfaction.  But here in Metro Manila, people have endured it for so long, and even when people are already crying out, complaints land on deaf ears.  Someone who learned about the Carmageddon in Manila while I was in Berlin asked me this:  Isn’t that a cause for a revolution already?  It should be!

Having a properly working and inclusive public transportation system is the lifeline of any place.  It is the vein from which the blood flows to the heart of the city and beyond.   The metro’s traffic problem is something that both the government and the people should resolve unless we really want to see the heart stop beating soon.

 

A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars.  It is where the rich use public transportation.

~ para­phrased from Enrique Peñalosa, for­mer Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia

 

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