Caught (up) in traffic

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March 2013


The Filipino term “namumulaklak” usually refers to flowering plants when blossoms appear around the equivalent of  springtime. This term has also been used to describe passenger behavior, sabit or to hang, particularly when public transport vehicles are already full and the more daring people hang at the door of the vehicle. When one says namumulaklak yung jeepney (the jeepney is like a flowering plant), this refers to a several passengers dangling from the rear door of the vehicle such as what is shown in the photos below. Perhaps the one who coined the phrase sees the jeepney as a bouquet with the people hanging behind as the flower buds?

IMG05404-20130208-1749Jeepney along Marcos Highway in Pasig City

I took the preceding photo while traveling along Marcos Highway en route to Antipolo, Rizal. The corridor has been served by jeepneys as far as I can remember. The scene is one you’d see every time during peak periods despite prohibition of this practice by authorities. Jeepneys easily evade being apprehended as the driver or conductor of the vehicle usually accepts only a few hangers-on and asks the latter to dip their heads so police or traffic enforcers cannot easily see the violation as the jeepney approaches. One or two people hanging behind the jeepney is quite common and generally tolerated along many roads. Enforcers says they are usually against excessive sabit when the risks are higher that one would fall off the jeepney.

This behavior is not exclusive to Metro Manila jeepneys but may be observed in other cities and towns as well. In certain cases such as Baguio City in the north, there are even passengers on the roof of the vehicle. While more unsafe, the behavior is tolerated and, surprisingly, there are minimal incidents of people falling off. Some foreign tourists are even offered rides on the roof and those seeking some thrill often oblige and just try to keep a tight hold on whatever that will keep them from falling off the vehicle.

IMG_2296Jeepney along Kennon Road heading up to Baguio City

IMG_2298Another jeepney along Kennon Road

DSC05130Jeepney along National Road in Bondoc Peninsula, Quezon

DSC05132Another jeepney along the national highway in Quezon

I used to hang behind jeepneys when I was commuting back during my college days. I had to take 2 jeepney rides between our home and UP Diliman. Those times it was quite difficult to get my first ride to or from the old jeepney terminal near Katipunan Avenue. To get a seat will take you a lot of time or would require one to go to Cubao where there are queues for jeepneys passing our village. Going to Cubao meant spending more for fares and so we would usually try to chance upon jeepneys with none or few sabit so we could be relatively safe under the rear roof of the jeepney rather than dangling outside. Many jeepney drivers seem to revel in trying to shake off people as they drive recklessly along the spacious Marcos Highway. Among the most notorious are jeepneys plying the Antipolo-Cubao via Sumulong Highway, Cubao-Montalban, Angono-Cubao (Double Highway) routes, particularly those which as regarded as patok (popular) jeepneys with their signature loud stereos blaring rock or hip hop music.

There are calls for enforcers to apprehend more violators and be firm with the law against such risky behavior on public transport vehicles. These calls are correct and there should be a strong campaign to reduce sabit. But what is usually lost in the road safety discussion is the reality that such behavior stems from the fact that there is unserved transport demand along the routes served by the jeepneys. This unserved demand means the supply side needs to be addressed first by determining why people are having difficulties getting seats when these are needed. It is not simply a coincidence that the time when it’s most difficult to get a ride is during the peak period. But this does not mean we have to provide all the vehicles with the equivalent number of seats during this time. Note that the resulting number of public utility vehicles will be excessive as they are not required during the rest of the day. The key is to understand that the travel speeds and turnaround times of public transport needs to be improved, and that means addressing congestion and not just increasing seating capacities for passengers by increasing vehicles. This is actually a daunting job and one that requires some clever analysis considering the overlapping routes in many Philippine cities. Perhaps one approach is really to simplify route structures and this can only be done if there are mass transit systems that can provide backbone services for most commuters.

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