Humanizing Metro Manila’s transport system

public transport
Early morning traffic situation in Quiapo, Manila. —PTV YOUTUBE SCREENGRAB

Metro Manila was tagged as having the fifth worst public transportation system worldwide in the 2022 Urban Mobility Readiness Index launched by the Oliver Wyman Forum and the University of California, Berkeley. This study examined 60 metropolises across the globe to assess their public transport system, including, among others, the reliability of public rail systems, various modalities of transport (such as traditional and modernized jeepneys and mini-buses), and pedestrian lanes. 

There is no doubt that Metro Manila’s public transport system presents an ordeal to commuters, drivers, conductors, and all others who share the roads daily. Just for one example, during rush hour commuters regularly have to wait for at least 30 minutes to get a ride in a public utility vehicle (PUV) just for them to get to where they’re going in at least 45 minutes on average. 

The rapid urbanization since the 1980s due to deeply centralized employment opportunities in Metro Manila and Greater Manila, insufficient drainage that can cause heavy volumes of traffic once the rain pours, unstrategic placement of pavements, and lack of sustainable walkways for pedestrians to safely cross and walk on the streets, etc. are among the factors behind the still worsening public transport system in Metro Manila. 

Poor public transport dehumanizes pedestrians and passengers. In particular, it requires the conditional surrender of personal space in exchange for the opportunity to get to work on time and to arrive home and spend quality time with loved ones. Even the modernized minibuses and electric jeepneys tend to allow an unlimited number of passengers—highly evident during rush hour when passengers, regardless of pregnancy or disability, even stand right at the doorstep of the vehicle. This applies not only to modernized jeepneys but also to public railways where personal space is sacrificed for the sake of catching up with time.

Faltering modernization 

The modernization program, intended to replace traditional jeepneys with modern-type air-conditioned ones run by cooperatives, has done little to ease the problem. The continuous attempts of organized jeepney drivers and operators to express their dissent only show that the state is still unable to strategically align its policies toward a mass-oriented and collective form of development. The discourses on traffic reforms constantly point toward still-unrealized essentials: providing eco-friendly walkways and sidewalks that would encourage walking and biking.  

However, this has been easier said than done since the decentralization of local government units (LGUs), when the devolution that is manifested through public works often becomes a topic of comparison. For example, Marikina is often hailed as one of the cleanest and greenest cities in Metro Manila due to the public works initiatives of its LGU. But the situation is not the same with other LGUs in the metro that tend to focus their budgets on other projects such as social services. 

On the other hand, deregulation on the part of the state has also become a problem. For instance, the lack of car ownership regulations has resulted in the domination of automobiles in Metro Manila alone. The government, alongside the conglomerates, pushed for the construction of skyways on public-private partnerships and official development assistance (ODA) by intergovernmental agencies that aim to promote economic collaboration and leverage with developing countries like the Philippines. 

2-pronged approach 

Urbanization efforts and lack of decentralization in terms of development and employment opportunities have resulted in this structural and cyclical concern that even the “Balik-Probinsya” program, the Duterte administration’s attempt to encourage a return to the provinces, could not solve. 

Metro Manila’s horrendous public transport system needs to be addressed with a two-pronged approach. 

From the bottom-up perspective, the human agencies concerned with the improvement of the public transport system has to be fully harnessed. They can be a force to be reckoned with in terms of lobbying for relevant legislation and serving as avenues for reforms and necessary arrangements in policymaking and program implementation. Transport groups are equally vital key players toward reforms considering that they are waging their fight for better working conditions and opportunities for their very survival. 

From the top-down perspective, the state can take initiatives and recalibrate its current policies. For example, the jeepney modernization program is inhumane because of the non-consultative steps toward the phaseout of traditional jeepneys. A shift in policy may include full subsidies in the repair of traditional jeepneys, and ensuring that carbon emission tests are done regularly, drivers’ competence are monitored, and opportunities are provided for drivers to be compensated. As well, the state should boost the local market by choosing local firms to collaborate with. 

Consequently, a proper balance between state regulation and market control should be achieved. 

Consider this: Car and motorcycle ownership has no limitation per household. If a family has the financial capability, it can purchase more vehicles for each member. This example alone upholds the persistent social class divide—where automobiles that mostly carry one or two persons  dominate the road vis-à-vis commuters who are packed into PUVs that take up only a small portion of that road. 

Additionally, the decentralization of LGUs can be an opportunity for the state and its agencies to collaborate and form joint initiatives on public works management projects aimed at the creation of sustainable and smart walkways and pedestrian crossings, among others. 

One project that can serve as a starting point is the Pasig River Esplanade—a 25-kilometer walkway designed for cycling, walking, strolling, and other recreational activities for pedestrians to enjoy. At least 15 government agencies are collaborating on this project. Hence, humanizing our transport system is not a long shot. Revitalizing cities, and pathways, and reconstructing the metropolitan ethos toward sustainability and collective development should be taken into account. 

With the two-pronged approach, humanized communities can become humanized societies. 

Juniesy Estanislao teaches Araling Panlipunan at Barangka National High School in Marikina City. He is studying for a master’s degree in Philippine Studies, major in Development Studies, at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines, Diliman.

Read more: Transport groups ‘will continue to make noise’ vs modernization plan

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