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.
* -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.