Commuter hell

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

Just before the Lenten break, as I was on my way home from work, I saw throngs of people waiting for a ride near EDSA. It was the Golden hour, the day was nearing its end and I assumed most were heading home, wherever home may be.

It was that Wednesday night last week, the last work day before the holiday.

I would later learn from news reports that the 24-kilometer EDSA and many of Metro Manila’s nooks and crannies became a commuter’s hell as many found themselves stuck waiting for a ride. Two rail lines suspended their operations for preventive maintenance, leaving desperate commuters stuck in limbo.

One was the MRT-3 that runs along EDSA, the other was LRT-2, which runs between Manila and Antipolo. Both were shut down on Wednesday, creating a major commuting catastrophe not seen in recent years.

One could not have missed the scenes of horror – mammoth crowds of people desperately waiting for a ride home, because photographs and footage were all over the news.

At the Guadalupe MRT-3 station on Wednesday night, the silence on the tracks was filled with the sounds of frustration and the gnashing of teeth, PhilStar.com reported.

“The line snaked all the way from the inactive MRT-3 station to the Pag-IBIG branch around the corner, twisting and turning and eventually looping just to make way for more people arriving from the office clusters in BGC,” it said.

Even the fast food joints nearby closed their doors because there were too many frustrated commuters coming in.

In Ayala, the lines extended all the way to Magallanes.  By 8 p.m., the lines were still surging. It was only then that the LTFRB issued a statement saying it would extend the operation hours of its free ride service along the EDSA Bus Carousel, the report also said.

Public transport buses were far and few between, as operators are still reeling from the effects of skyrocketing oil prices.

Many ended up walking across cities to go home. All these problems while we are still in a pandemic.

Out of touch

Clearly, the problem stemmed from poor decision making on the part of our Transport officials  – and on a bigger scale, it is a reflection of the perennial problem of the government being out of touch with people’s reality. If the maintenance schedule was moved to Thursday, this self-inflicted problem would not have happened.

Advocacy group Move as One Coalition said that in Metro Manila, 70 percent of people rely on public transportation.


On Thursday, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade apologized for what happened.

“Sa ngalan ng buong Kagawaran ng Transportasyon, ako ‘ho ay taos-puso at nagpapakumbabang humihingi ng pang-unawa at patawad sa ating mga kababayan na lubhang nahirapan sa kanila-kanilang mga biyahe pauwi, lalung-lalo na sa kahabaan ng EDSA Busway simula kahapon,” he said in a statement the following morning.

“Moving forward, we will make sure that what happened yesterday shall never happen again in the succeeding days,” he said.

Solving the mass transport problem

Last Wednesday’s commuter hell was not an isolated incident. The commuting public is forced to endure long hours on the road every day because of our inefficient mass transport system and the lack of public transport options. Commuters certainly deserve better.

How does one really solve the mass transport problem? I hope the next president will have an answer and a serious, comprehensive long-term plan that is doable.

For starters, I believe it is important that whoever is assigned to fix the problem should have at least experienced how it is to really commute in Metro Manila – not those one time ocular visits with throngs of journalists and TV crews.

The next Transport chief must really immerse himself or herself in the belly of the beast, in the daily grind of present-day public commuting in Metro Manila and elsewhere, to know how severe the transport crisis is. The problem isn’t only confined to our main thoroughfares. Traveling to the provinces, especially by sea, is no better.

It isn’t just the lack of buses or the occasional maintenance shutdowns that compound the problem. The devil is in the details – elevators and escalators that don’t work, the tedious walk to the rail and bus stations, the frequency of rides, the sudden shutdowns etc.

Only by experiencing what millions of Filipino commuters experience daily can the government really get an idea of what it means to commute in the Philippines. Maybe, just maybe, only then that one can come up with better solutions instead of being absolutely disconnected to the reality of the problem, because apologizing after a night of commuter hell just won’t cut it.



Iris Gonzales’ email address is [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com.

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