Working with the system

- Dong Magsajo -

As we put today’s issue to bed, I am fresh out of my family’s trip to our second home, Hong Kong, where we had a home for a few years back in the 1990s. As expected, Hong Kong’s constantly-evolving mass transportation system remains efficient, accessible and affordable – a far cry from our sorry state of affairs here in the good old Philippine Islands, to be sure. I was, in fact, seriously toying with the thought of using the disparate systems as fodder for this week’s Backseat Driver column but whiling away the time in my hotel room, I came across a television infomercial that just blew me away – and convinced me that discussing it in today’s column was far more relevant than writing another 700 words worth of rants.

The infomercial was sponsored by Hong Kong’s Road Safety Council, and it discussed – in around 30 seconds – the proper usage of headlamps and hazard lamps (Headlamps while on the move, hazard lamps only when stalled, silly!). I was so struck by how efficiently and effectively a good road safety message was delivered that I thought to myself, “We Filipinos ought to seriously consider doing this. We need to inform our road users of how to properly use our cars and our roads more than these people do.” And so here we are…

To be honest, I didn’t have time to research extensively how the said infomercial made it to the local television networks (I tried surfing but the wi-fi in my room was as indecisive as an adolescent in his prime). Was it paid for by the Hong Kong government? Was it mandated by law to be included in primetime broadcasts? Then it got to me. Does it even matter?

The fact is that the local authorities and agencies in Hong Kong involved in pushing for better road safety practices have reached a point where they’ve gotten their act together so much that they’re now using mass media to get relevant messages through to the general public. To me, that was even more impressive than a 15-minute fuss free MTR ride! Why so? Because here in the Philippines, we spend so much time and effort trying to bend rules, invent new band aid solutions and generally bickering about nonsense (like re-naming our streets) that we miss out on our chance to get relevant messages delivered to the general public.

If, for example, we’d spent half the time trying to educate people about when to use headlamps and hazard lamps (and differentiating their very specific purposes) instead of fighting over the need to re-name EDSA, how much safer would our roads be today? If, for example, we’d use several of Metro Manila’s gigantic billboards to get road safety messages through instead of fighting to bring those billboards with barely clad individuals down, how much better would our traffic flow be today? Is it really that hard to use the resources that we already have progressively and positively?

Our biggest problem isn’t that we have too many distractions or too many cars or too many pedestrians. Our biggest problem is that most of our road users don’t know how to use our roads properly. And unfortunately, instead of maximizing our resources to address that problem, most of the people in charge want to re-invent the wheel in their image instead. None, apparently, want to work with the system and use the resources provided by the system to their advantage.

Quite frankly, all Hong Kong’s Road Safety Council did was agree on disseminating a generally acceptable message and use a medium that was available to them to send that message straight out to the target market. Plain and simple. They didn’t need to tear down billboards or (in this particular case) regulate what was being shown on television. They used the system to their advantage. Which is just brilliant in its simplicity.

Someday I hope we’ll learn to be as practical and straightforward. But while we have politicians who insist on painting the town pink, re-naming our streets yellow or on waging wars against media organizations that they could have otherwise used to further their agencies’ goals, we’ll never learn to simplify things and achieve concrete goals as quickly. Which is a shame, really. Because if you really think about it, the methods we ought to be using to achieve our goals ought to be as simple as each and every individual road user’s goal – which is to get from point A to point B in the quickest and safest way possible.

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