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The Public Transport System Dilemma of the Philippines

By: Renzo Guevara

Now that economic activities are returning to normal operations, more Filipinos are out and about without the proper public transport system to support them. Time that was supposed to be productive has now been wasted commuting from one place to another. 

Too much, too little
For the longest time, commuting in the Philippines has been a major headache. Hours burned in traffic, unclear pickup and drop-off locations, lack of pedestrian support on the roads, and a complete disregard for the drivers’ welfare all add up to making sure that Filipinos have one of the worst commuting experiences in the world. 
In order to contextualize the gravity of the situation, consider the numbers. Back in 2019, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) labeled Metro Manila as the most congested city in developing Asia as it housed more than 13 million individuals. In December 2021, the number of registered vehicles in the Philippines reached 4,951,662. According to Statista, the number of train passengers alone has reached 103 million. And to think, most of these numbers were recorded during the times of COVID-19 lockdowns with reduced economic activities.
When the rona hit, it highlighted just how problematic public commuting is down to its core principles. Not just in the Philippines too. Various leaders from different parts of the world have spoken out about how transportation systems not only lack convenience but safety as well.
No opportunity for social distancing is one of the more obvious ones. Even if there wasn’t a pandemic, no one would be willing to be nose-to-nose with multiple strangers while traveling.
Now in 2022, directives for employees to report back to their respective offices, leisure places such as restaurants, malls, and vacation spots have all gone back to full 100% operations, and people are just generally tired of seeing each other through Zoom.
The average daily commute takes 30-59 minutes. There’s just not enough time and vehicle space in the country to accommodate everyone at a reasonable rate. Do they just expect people to fly from point A to B?
They expect people to fly from point A to B
With the soaring inflation rates the world is dealing with causing prices of almost every consumer good to go up—gas being one of the more painful ones, both public transportation workers and commuters are placed in a bad spot.
When gasoline prices go up, drivers need to adjust their fares in order to afford buying a full tank for traveling. When drivers adjust their fare prices, commuters have to set aside a bigger budget dedicated to their daily traveling which causes them to lose more money from their savings.
It has gotten so bad to the point that the jeepney drivers have gone on strike protesting the price hikes and how they receive minimal if any at all, support from the government.
There’s also a massive issue regarding accessibility for persons with disabilities (PWDs). Pedestrian lanes (if there are any in the first place) and public stations are favored towards people who have no problem with climbing tall flights of stairs, squeezing into tight corners, and waiting in line for hours on end.
Netizens have gone online to voice out their frustrations with the current state of the commute in the Philippines with some just laughing off how difficult it has become and to be fair, it really has been. Posts have gone viral showcasing commuters trying to fight their way into buses, struggling to move through damaged sidewalks, and having no sense of sanitation—among other things.
Not fare enough
Recent developments have been made by the government in an attempt to try and put some order to public commuting in the Philippines. Has it been sufficient enough?
Dedicated bus lanes have been made in order to minimize the massive traffic jams caused by a combination of private and public vehicles trying to fight for their spot on the highly congested highways. While it is a good idea on paper—also providing more centralized stations for loading and unloading passengers, it hasn’t really been working all too well.
It’s not a problem that’s easy to solve. No matter how many highways, rail systems, bus stops, and roads are built, people are still more inclined to use their own private vehicles because mass transportation is just not as efficient. It does cause traffic congestion but you also have to ask yourself: would you rather be stuck in the comforts of your own car or be alongside strangers in a very tight space or waste time and energy in a station?
The entire system of the Philippine public transport system is severely outdated with aging equipment, a lack of financial security for the operators, and a lack of a proper structure to support further development and modernization.
Is it too late for Filipino commuters to hope that the public transportation system will all get better soon? One thing’s for sure, it’ll definitely be too late for them if they try to rely on it to get to work on a daily basis.

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