Seating capacity

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By Ramon Dacawi

Benchwarmer

Friday, December 13, 2013


(It's a recurrent complaint, the squeezing in by jeepney drivers and barkers of passengers beyond the reasonable, realistic and actual capacities of passenger vehicles plying the common "tao's" daily routes all over this Third World country of ours. The original piece of this rewrite came out years back. A few weeks back, a reader wrote the weekly paper editor on the same plea for passenger space. Mostly likely, no action action will come from our land transportation officials, proving my dread -- that no one reads this column except my son and the writer himself.)

I ALMOST got in trouble one time with a fellow aging passenger over the unrealistic seating capacity of our jeepneys. Transport officials who set and implement standards ignore this simply because they don’t ride mass transport. They ride in their own cars or office-issued vehicles driven by government-paid pilots.

Even with the Filipino’s average bantam size, each of the twin benches approved and certified by the government franchising agency for 10 is often just enough for nine passengers. A so-called nine-seater fits eight, and an eight-seater is actually made for seven, even with the Pinoy capacity to constrict and adjust to the givens.

It’s embarrassing, truly inconvenient for the last two passengers to fill either jeepney row to incapacity. Often, they have to inch their way through baggage to the innermost space, just behind the driver.

Earlier passengers spare themselves that inconvenience when they alight by sitting nearest the exit, also to spare themselves from passing on fares to the driver. With a misplaced sense of urgency and need for self-comfort, they immediately pass on their fare to the last passenger, for the latter to pass on to the driver even before he or she could attempt to settle down or whip out his or her own fare.

The last two in can’t squeeze in or won’t even try, especially when sandwiched between two of the opposite sex. They’re just lucky if the overhead support bars are long enough for them to grip. Otherwise, it’s a balancing act until a passenger alights and temporarily allows space.

Chances are another passenger standing and hanging on the tail-end bars fills in the gap or the driver loads in another. The last two will find their protruding knuckles (and heads) knocking each other when “patay malisya” fellow fares grudgingly give them inches of space directly facing each other.

We have gone a long way since the days of the auto calesa, those Willys and Eisenhower military jeeps converted into more realistic three-seaters. The jeepney has expanded, only to fall short of the convenience that those war surplus machines used to provide.

Transport officials approving franchises now hardly consider passenger seating – and even road – capacity. After all, they don’t ride jeepneys like we, lesser mortals, do. It would be most ironic and embarrassing for them who approve transport franchises not to have their own service vehicles.

Perhaps it was his thin frame that encouraged my fellow passenger, who came in last, to be loud in his demand for space. He announced for all to hear that those two behind the front backrest were sitting like kings. He was referring to me and a lady who found it difficult to press herself against the slanted (\) front back rest. She did press herself in any way when she heard, allowing me to do the same.

The lady alighted first and then it was my turn. On my way out, I had a look at the fellow passenger who, I presumed was already a dual citizen (Filipino and senior) like me or soon to be. I gently tapped him on the shoulder and told him it was not me but the lady who didn’t “dimmenden”.
He took that as an affront and chastised me for looking at him. “Kumita ka pay laeng,” he bristled, making it sound like a threat.

After stepping down, I looked back to see him threatening to go down after me. I did a counter, threatening to get back in for him. I guess we both knew we wouldn’t dare as, in no time, the jeep moved him on, away from me. While preparing supper for my ward at home, I thought aging truly makes one cranky and hart to please.

Lest this would trigger protests from jeepney drivers and operators, my point is prospective. Let their existing units continue filling up according to their approved capacity. Have transport officials start adjusting and imposing seating standards on units still to be manufactured and sold. They can do this with admirable efficiency and accuracy, as they are when they compute registration and fare adjustment fees they impose on jeepney and taxi operators. Or with the same urgency that they had approved new franchises that now gives Baguio the distinction of having the most number of units compared to population. We now have enough for us to mount a taxi or jeepney festival, if only tourism-oriented people can catch my drift.

As it is, over-sized Filipinos like Swanny Dicang are obviously the most disadvantaged, the most “marginalized” (to use that development jargon) among commuters. They have to ride taxis or drive a hand-me-downs, lest they be accused of denying fellow passengers space on the jeepney bench.

Rural folks are more tolerant of riding with each other within the givens than us, city commuters. They are used to clambering up to the roof of the single unit for that single, one and only trip to the poblacion in the morning and back to the village in the afternoon.

The need for mass transport to speed up progress was fully understood by the late guerrilla leader, former Benguet Gov. Bado Dangwa. He designed buses with no aisles to maximize seating capacity. Entrances were on each side of each wooden row long enough to accommodate seven.

He had each unit hard-topped for heavy baggage and, if necessary, extra passengers on the roof deck so no one would be left behind.

That ingenious, practical system of full accommodation, however, didn’t sit well with a city-bred police officer who tried to stop a bus brimming with people and baggage. The story was e-mailed to me by expatriate Jorge Pawid, he of Kiangan and Ibaloy blood who, like any expat, longs to see a jeepney pass by his home in California. He swore it was the latest Ifugao joke, but which he related in the Ibaloy version.

The bus driver, an Ifugao, ignored the police officer’s signal to stop and just drove on, like he never saw the latter. The officer jotted down the bus plate number then gave chase in his service vehicle. He found the bus and the driver at the Dangwa station.

“Apay nga saan ka nga simmardeng idi parparaen ka gapu overloading ka?,” he demanded to know.

“Hanak nga simmaldeng a ta, kas nakitam met, awanen lugal mo ditoy bus ko nga napunpunno,” the driver replied. “Kababain met a kenka nga opisyal no agtakdel ka pay.” (e-mail: mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on December 14, 2013.

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