Photo by PatrickRocque01 via Wikimedia Commons
Public transportation is a cruel joke in Metro Manila. Commuters line up for hours to catch a bus or train only to be sardined inside dilapidated vehicles. Those lines often snake down staircases and around street blocks. Rush hour is especially a slog and has seen little improvement for years. A January 2018 photo taken during rush hour inside one train station is indistinguishable from one taken this morning. And don’t even get Filipinos started about what happens when it rains.
The inefficiency of public transportation has a lot to do with the continued rise of car ownership in the country, which in turn has led to the worsening traffic situation. Around half of the population don’t have cars and rely on the country’s network of buses, trains, tricycles, and jeepneys. They too are affected by city gridlocks. A 2017 study by Boston Consulting Group has named Metro Manila as the city with the third-worst traffic in Southeast Asia. A 2015 survey by Waze named it the worst in the world.In his State of the Nation address, President Rodrigo Duterte said the nation loses around $67 million a day due to traffic in Metro Manila. Heavy traffic also negatively affects our psychological well being. According to a study on the association of health and perceived traffic stress, heavy traffic takes a toll on our mental health because of its unpredictability and our perceived helplessness towards the situation.To address this commuter’s nightmare, the Philippine House of Representatives recently filed a bill that allegedly nationwide. The bill stresses that several factors, from infrastructure to air pollution, are detrimental to the lives of the commuting public.Named the Magna Carta of Commuters, House Bill 3125, filed by Representative Allan Benedict Reyes, follows the filing of Senate Bill No. 775, or the Dignity in Commuting Act filed by Senator Francis Pangilinan. Both bills propose an ambitious revamp of Philippine transportation in favor of the commuting majority.
As infrastructure projects and private developments continue to grow in the country, projects supporting or prioritizing commuters are rarely seen. The explanatory note introducing both bills cites the fact that while 70 percent of total trips in Manila are made through public transport, these are only allotted 20 percent of road space.“Unfortunately, Filipinos have long suffered mobility issues. This disproportionately affects the most vulnerable in the country: the young and the elderly, the women, the poor, the working class and the persons with disabilities who mostly rely on public transportation and active transport in every part of the country,” said Reyes.The bills' asks are not unreasonable. In proposing well-maintained and secure public terminals built 300 meters away from each other and within 500 meters of any residence or activity center, the bills aim to cut down waiting time to ten minutes during rush hour. They also propose that operators and their facilities are equipped to cater to the needs of people with special needs and people with disabilities.Roads with a speed limit of over 20 kilometers per hour (kph) but under 60 kph should have sidewalks of at least 2.5 meters wide in each direction, according to the bills. In the provinces, highways without dedicated sidewalks are common.In the event of a service breakdown, the bills demand refunds and assistance towards their destination for commuters. Anyone who violates the law's provisions will be fined; operators could have their license revoked.The bills also call for the creation of a National Office of Commuter Affairs to monitor these provisions under the Department of Transportation. The rest of the Senate bill’s provisions can be read online.“Improving mobility propels economic growth and reduces inequality,” Reyes noted.In a time where traffic congestion and constant service breakdowns are common occurrences to the point where they have become normalized, legislation for commuter rights is more than just welcome—it’s a long time coming. But the willingness of legislators to acknowledge these rights remains to be seen.