A taxi driver’s question …

Published in The Freeman (Philippine Star), July 21, 2012

It took a long time for me to give directions to the taxi driver as to where my destination is.  While I have written in the past about the advantages of using the MRT in Manila, I admit there are disadvantages, too, and I only use it nowadays when pressed for time.  It still is the fastest travel mode there is during peak hours, but oftentimes inconvenient.  People in Manila have already takes that for granted, used to the daily scene of long lines reaching out to the sidewalk at ground level below the MRT stations.  And at 5:00 pm, you’ll see even longer lines in makeshift terminals everywhere.  People are resigned to this … daily routine, it’s actually less stressful outside of the capital.

I told the driver I need to go to DOTC, with the instructions on the best way to get there.  You have to be forcefully specific – one time another driver missed the turn and we had to go all the way halfway to Cubao before we found a U-turn slot.  Cost me another 25 minutes delay.  This driver repeated exactly what I said, and I settled comfortably in my seat reading project documents.  This is also the advantage of the taxi over MRT – you can use otherwise wasted time in a humongous traffic situation, by reading.

The driver broke his silence and asked me, “sir, matutuloy ba ang repair ng EDSA?”  I was surprised; I said I have no idea.  Then he added, still in the vernacular, “traffic is getting worse and worse everyday, how can we solve this?”  I realized that he was asking these questions because he presumed I am from DOTC.  I asked myself, heck, I even don’t know whose job it is – DOTC’s or MMDA’s.  Newspaper reports always tend to point out Metro Manila’s traffic is under MMDA.

I said, “look at that bus beside us, and tell me what you see?”  He answered it’s less than half full, sir.  Then both of us started looking at all the other buses around us – some have plenty of passengers, some have very few, … on the average, the buses are less than half full.  This is at the morning peak in EDSA when everybody is crawling snail-paced.  “See,” I pointed out, “if all those people who drive cars used the bus, everybody would reach their destination in much less than half the time!”

The driver just shook his head.  I don’t know whether it’s because he didn’t understand it, or he did but concluded that it wouldn’t work, or figured out it would never happen.  I have to admit it’s a radical idea.  But Rene Santiago, in an email last week, told me directly, “In Metro Manila, similar ideas and proposals are considered subversive.”  I wanted to reply to Rene that it’s not limited to Metro Manila, even in Cebu or anywhere else in the country and even in the whole world, mobility concepts are disregarded.  People are so engrossed in traffic jams that sometimes I even suspect they are already enamored to the issue.  As if they don’t want congestion to get solved so that they can continually complain about them.

I was so steamed up by the half-empty buses that I started explaining the mathematics of road space as simply as I could in the most layman’s terms (although I guessed I still failed).  I said one lane of the road can carry 1,400 cars per hour.  If each vehicle only have the driver, that’s 1,400 persons.  If he has 1 passenger, then it’s 2,800 passengers per hour.  If there are 4 persons in the car, it goes up to 5,200 pax per hour.  That’s assuming continuous flow at a comfortable speed without any hassle of waiting – just jump into a vehicle whenever you like.  This “ideal” situation actually never happens.

Public transportation carries from 8,000 to 80,000 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd), depending on the kind.  BRT’s offer a wide range of capacities with the Guangzhou and Bogota BRT’s leading the sector at more than 35,000 pphpd.  Most LRTs are generally less than that while subway metros in the big megacities of the world transport from 30,000 to 80,000 pphpd daily.  Even the ordinary bus shuttles carry considerable; even the jeepney capacities are higher than the car, anytime, hands down.  That’s the reality of public transportation.  Yet … transport policies worldwide are still debating on how to make traffic easier and friendlier … for the car.  The world’s worst invention …