Streetlife

Published in The Freeman (Philippine Star), April 19, 2012

A lot of things we take for granted, routine daily activities – like what we ride in the morning when we go to work.  Many probably have their own cars; some will take the jeepney.  In the set of people who read newspapers daily, there are probably many more car users than jeepney commuters, and those who use two-wheelers are far, far less.  But we don’t think about it, we go on day after day following the routine and not observant on things around us.

The reason this column took the name Streetlife more than a decade go is precisely because most of the issues we write about is life on the streets.  All of us have 24 hours each day, about 8 hours used in working or studying; another 8, for sleeping, more or less depending on age, and the rest for other activities.  But a chunk of that is actually time spent in travelling from place to place.  In economic terms, we usually consider that as non-productive, unless you find a way working on your laptop while driving a motorcycle, or, as we have stated the obvious before, you are a jeepney driver earning a living while travelling.

Streetlife – that daily time you spend travelling is also about the only time we have that we can observe what’s happening to our city.  We can always read the news, watch TV, or listen to the radio, but it’s when your way to work and back and you really see that pothole, or that new tall building being constructed, or how clean or dirty the sidewalks are – the good and bad sights of the place we call home.  At home we only see the confines of our house, or at most the neighborhood.  At work it’s worse – sometimes you’re in a room for hours.  There may be a time after work when we see other areas – nowadays, especially the malls, but to see a wider view of the city is really done when one travels from home to work and back.

Most if not all of us wish for more time.  In an urban setting, life becomes a race, akin to one done by rats, as the usual idiom says, though not once in my life did I really see rats racing with each other.  There is a long history of research all over the world which confirmed that people walk faster in denser urban cities than in laid back smaller communities.  A study said that two of the three strongest social predictors of walking speed were a country’s G.D.P. and its purchasing power parity.  Apparently, the value of time is more pronounced in cities, but unfortunately, it is in the cities where time is wasted most in the daily transportation activity, reaching billions of pesos a year in economic losses.

But we take it for granted and we don’t do anything until the problem becomes so acute it hits us where it hurts the most.  We have the propensity to buy cars because it brings us to our destinations faster without realizing that it will make travel time longer sometime later.  If it takes an hour from home to work, that’s 2 hour out of your 24 in a day; if that travel time increases to 2 hours because of traffic, that’s 4 hours!  Try living in Manila and see where you’re time is spent – you’d be surprised how much time is wasted on the road.

Not to worry, its nothing that we can’t plan ahead and mitigate.  If there’s anything I may like to stress here, maybe it’s the realization that the crucial trips (and times) to think about are when people go from home to work in the morning, and vice versa, in the afternoon.  That’s when traffic is at its peak – when people complain of traffic jams.  With that in mind, then we know the beginning of the solution, which is public transportation …