Caught (up) in traffic

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Daily Archives: January 3, 2014

To commute or not to commute

To commute or not to commute? That seems to be the question many people would like our political leaders and government officials to ponder the answer to. Of course, the word “commute” itself refers to traveling whether by public or private transport. However, in the Philippines we have equated “commuting” with taking public transportation. Anyhow, the reality is that most of our top officials, elected or appointed are car owners and are most likely to drive or be driven between their homes, offices and appointments. This is what is perceived by many people as “The Reason” why public officials have little or no appreciation of the difficulties experienced by the commuting public.

While sympathy is usually assumed or claimed by responsible persons, it is empathy that is most desirable from our public officials as they should feel how most people feel when they commute every working day. But how can you empathize if you have not experienced the difficulties of commuting in Metro Manila or other city? How can you say you understand the plight of pedestrians, cyclists and those taking public transport if you prefer or opt to drive or be driven in your car or SUV to and from your office? Did you really commute when you were in high school or college? Or maybe you were one of those cool guys or gals driving their own cars?

Almost every week, I have left my car at the office to commute or hitch a ride with my wife where our routes overlap. I have used public transportation since I was in high school so I am quite familiar with taking pedicabs, tricycles, jeepneys, buses and trains. I have also commuted whenever I am on trips to other cities including those abroad. Public transport is part of the experience whenever I am on trips and when I am in a new place, I make it a point to take long walks first to explore the surrounding area. It is a familiarization of sorts and makes me comfortable with the area. I remember that when I was a student in Japan, I would try to look for the nearest church to where I was staying, especially if I was there over the weekend.

IMG06635-20130827-0952Walking is part of commuting and I am thankful that where I work, the surroundings are basically pedestrian-friendly. The photo above shows the sidewalk along Katipunan Avenue on the side of the university.

IMG06658-20130831-1355Seamless transfers are not yet quite the norm in the Philippines. The photo shows one of the better examples where transfers between modes are more convenient. This is at the LRT 2 Santolan Station. Note the markings for the bicycle path. I took this as I was descending from the pedestrian overpass that connected with a nearby mall by the Marikina River.

While traveling within other cities, whether in the Philippines or abroad, the first option for many if not most ┬ápeople would be to take public transportation. Taking out a rental vehicle is not common and taxis are considered as part of the public transport system. As such, we try to get information on how to get to places of interest from relatives, friends, hosts or staff of the hotel we are staying at. These include maps like the old fashioned ones we can get at airports, train stations and tourist booths. Nowadays, there’s a wealth of information available online and apps that can help us navigate around cities.

We tend to comment on how good the public transportation is in the places we’ve visited or how easy it was to commute in these cities. And upon returning to our country we are quick to criticize our public transport, pedestrian and cycling facilities. The irony, of course, is that many of those who are quick to criticize don’t even use public transport, walk or cycle. Even more tragic (for lack of a better word, I think) is that we don’t demand for better public transport, pedestrian or cycling facilities. Perhaps that should change and in this New Year, we should resolve to push the government and its partners for better transit, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure for our cities. And part of that push is by getting involved in advocacies, including projects, for these causes on transport. We should not forget that though we need and seek champions for public transport, walking and cycling among our leaders, we should also be champions in our own ways.