step one

So we've talked about how more people in Metro Manila take public transportation than drive private cars; about how prioritizing public transit, focusing on moving people, is a vastly more efficient use of our roads than just working on moving vehicles; and about how our public transit woes are tied down to the boundary system that governs the business.

The common theme in the discussion about those posts was that we really need the political will to get past the vested interests of the transport unions, to transcend the myopia of the traffic managers and to get national or local governments to pay attention.

So how do we build up the political will?

As the maxim goes, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease."

For too long the discussion of transportation issues have been nothing more than the back and forth between vendors (operators and drivers) and regulators about the right fare level or about who has traffic authority over buses and jeepneys. No one seems to be looking out for the rights of the passengers.

Our investments in mass transit seem to be all about big business interests, or clearing traffic for car riding elite or speculative real estate deals. While the public winds up with high cost projects with badly located and badly designed stations and disconnected rail networks. Who speaks for the customers and the taxpayers?

Who speaks for the people who have no option but to take public transit?

I think it's time we take the advice of WorldChanging. I think it's time that the patient 78% of Metro Manila citizens who take public transit demand what's due them.

I think it's time for a Metro Manila Transit Riders Union.

It's time to ask:

  • Should public transit riders have to spend more time traveling and in traffic? (Be it because of a traffic bias for cars and bad PUV driving behavior.)

  • The government keeps spending on expanding roads, why don't they spend on public transit facilities? Like better bus stops and jeepneys stops. Or better connections between modes. Or better sidewalks.

  • Why doesn't the government implement strict quality standards so that public transit riders don't have to suffer in dirty buses with barely functional airconditioning or super squeezed in seats?

  • Why shouldn't public transit be more efficient than private transportation?

My contention has always been that we need an Urban Coalition of civic and business leaders that will initiate a metro-wide discussion on urban planning issues. It may take a while to get that coalition off the ground. Starting a Metro Manila Public Transit Riders Union would be a good way to build up momentum among stakeholders, could be a good pre-cursor to the Urban Coalition and should not take as much energy to get off the ground.

We could start with colloquia in our schools, or meetings in our parishes, or informal lunch discussions about our own public transit woes in our workplaces. We could begin with a forum on transportation and invite speakers in our civic clubs. We could start a website with a sign-up sheet. We could begin by talking to our co-passengerss in our daily FX ride.

I know our civic leaders seem to be focused on bigger fish but I wish someone could find the energy to take this initiative as this addresses a very real issue that confronts the poor* in our cities. This could very well be step one in the path towards urban happiness in our metropolis.

Any takers?

Image credit: Indie Fist
by Sparktography

* -You would have to be very myopic not to see that inefficient public transport is an integral dimension of the effects of poverty on our families. The father or the mother who cannot afford a car must pay for that everyday in an extra hour or more spent in traffic, time spent away from their homes and their children.


javad said...

hi .
a good blog .
very nice.
good luck .

Baldagyi Hatipoglu said...

i wonder if these thoughts will ever be considered in our country. i really hope someone powerful enough listens. or that commuters will unite and for a critical mass. one thing that bears pointing out is that to us filipinos, commuting is a shameful thing because it indicates our low socioeconomic status. that kind of view should be taken into consideration as well, i believe

Urbano dela Cruz said...

"one thing that bears pointing out is that to us filipinos, commuting is a shameful thing because it indicates our low socioeconomic status"

ah, r.o., there's the rub.

we hang our heads in shame because we are poor.

a child hangs herself, ashamed that she is poor.

we shake our heads ashamed of the poverty around us and seek blame

we look around and "hope someone powerful enough listens"

Who is powerful?

She is. She is. He is. He is. They are. and they are.

We are.

Baldagyi Hatipoglu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baldagyi Hatipoglu said...

it's bad, i agree, but it's a reality that must first be hurdled before taking step 1. i believe that overcoming that negative psychological reality is the real step 1. who is willing to take the challenge?

Peter said...

Who would you need?

Who would you want?

If you include all so called stakeholders then these include status quo interests that refuse change even if it may be good for them in the long run.

transport guys, village associations, real estate companies, even lgu's get in the way.

I'm afraid it may be a never ending conversation that goes nowhere.

Perhaps something a bit more doable e.g. likeminded people educate everyone and anyone willing to listen, specially people in gov't.

The little steps may ultimately add up to something good in the long run.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

"I'm afraid it may be a never ending conversation that goes nowhere. "

We plan our game ahead, right? I mean, I'm sure you never enter a board meeting that will tackle a major issue without knowing which board member is going to vote in what direction and without knowing what positions to take to move swing votes in certain directions.

so we do our committee work ahead. And yes, that means:

"likeminded people educate everyone and anyone willing to listen, specially people in gov't."

Maybe that's the first step, but then we have to plan the next steps.

It's all about Leading Change

Peter said...

hehe I hear you the challenge is clear, though one must admit in situations like this it's easier to rely on the great man theory of history !

dave (",) said...

I've seen a blog documenting traffic violators, complete with photos. Then there was also a TV network-driven text campaign against vehicle pollution. Indeed what's missing is coordinated action.

Eugene said...

Hmmm... It's a tough sell to lots of people in Metro Manila who love their cars. It's doable but I think most people are clueless about the larger aspects of urban planning apart from the air pollution and traffic in the streets. One thing we need is to create awareness about the ideas of urban planning and the problems of transiting vast populations into and from the cities in particular. I think it's only then can a transit riders union will become a feasible lobby group to affect public policy.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

Peter, Dave and Eugene:


Yeah. We also seem to be tempted by the promise of strong leader who will solve all of this for us and make problems go away.

We keep looking for Daddy.


How about using cellphones to track real time traffic. No texting involved, just mapping cellphone signals in real time.

(I was recently invited to but declined to work with this MIT lab. Long story.)


Seems like chicken or egg, right?

BUT, most political coalitions are built up on a spectrum of single issues -not an overarching worldview.

Efficient public transit might seem parochial, but I think it's easier to use it as a stepping stone to move up to a broader discussion of urban issues than it is to go the reverse.

E.g. -in politics, talk about what hits people home, then talk about principles.

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