Lizares: The sorry state of PH transport

IT HAS been a pitiful sight these past days watching commuters taking to the streets carrying luggage and children because traffic was at a standstill with roads closed and blocked for the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Leaders’ Summit.

With the P9 billion expenses assigned for the big event, didn’t the power brains behind all these preparations conceived alternate routes for regular daily commuters? Tempers rose to burning temperatures and the excitement for this occasion has drown whatever merits APEC will filter down over the years to those who missed life-changing appointments, flights and emergencies to hospitals because of road blocks.

No one really thought of the grinding rituals of the common “tao” who has urgent things to do on a daily basis—APEC or no APEC— to survive with the mere staples in life.

It is a disgusting sight even for one just watching it on television but can you imagine the mother who had to walk 3 kilometers carrying her baby to have her passport done; OFWs who had flights to catch for the jobs that will provide for their families or a father who had to take his daughter to the hospital because she is a nurse whose vocation is to take care of the sick. There are thousands of more horror stories.

Transportation should be a major agenda of our leaders especially those running for office or, pretty please, for the ones who are still in power. If our MRT was really built to service the commuting public, then a fraction of the problem would have been addressed if it were truly efficient.

With the MRT operating in over-capacity since 2004, government officials have admitted that capacity and system upgrades are overdue, although in the absence of major investment in improving system safety and reliability, MRT-3 management has resorted to experimenting with and/or implementing other solutions to reduce strain on the system.”

These experimenting and or implemental solutions have proven over the past years that the riding public has been shortchanged.
In Hong Kong, their MTR (Mass Transit Railway) consists of nine urban lines, one Airport Express line connecting the airport and downtown, one light rail system with 12 routes serving the northwest New Territories, and one tourist cable car system Ngong Ping 360.

In addition, it includes MTR feeder bus service, intercity passenger transfer. There are 84 railway stations and 68 light rail stops connecting Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and many new districts. Due to its efficiency and affordability, the MTR system is a common mode of public transport in Hong Kong, with over 4 million trips made in an average weekday.

I was in Hong Kong recently and together with locals, tourists and visiting guests, we availed of the MTR. The MTR has made life less stressful for commuters. We were caught once in their rush hour as Ocean Park closes at 7 p.m. but while there was a sea of people, the service was orderly, swift, and concise. We had a child with us in a stroller and there are specific exits and entrances for this type of commuter. For those in wheelchairs, there is a lift to give maximum comfort, mobility and speed.

The MTR is very rarely affected by traffic jam and bad weather. The trains run from early morning till late night, seven days a week, all 365 days of the year. High frequency schedules ensure tourists will never have to wait more than a few minutes for another train during rush hours, 8:30 to 9:00 and 18:00 to 19:00. Getting to the trains, one goes to the subway stations which are air-conditioned to create a relaxed, hassle-free environment.

Visitors will find the journey a pleasant one especial during the hot, humid summer months. Almost all of the subway stations are equipped with multiple, clearly identified exits for travelers' convenience. Platforms at all MTR stations are linked to the stations' main concourses by escalators. While on the concourses themselves, passengers can discover mini-banks and kiosks selling daily necessities plus other auxiliary services items such as sale of books, magazines, cakes and cosmetics. Moreover, many trains broadcast news coverage. Transporting yourself to different directions has never been more convenient and comfortable. In fact, it is always amazing to be transported from the Hong Kong area to Kowloon in a train that crosses the channel beneath the waters. It boggles my mind, really!

If our MRT can only be improved to the highest degree of efficiency and more connections, then we will have more smiling commuters than suffering ones berating public officials.

Once I made a trip to Corregidor, and we could see Cavite on the south western side of the coast from Manila Bay. As we are on the topic of traffic and transport, can’t a ferry system be designed to also use the bay and all waterways for bringing people to their destinations?

Hong Kong’s Star Ferry Company Limited is owned by The Wharf (Holdings) in Hong Kong. Star Ferry has carried passengers from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and back since 1888. Riding the Star Ferry provides both a remarkably inexpensive method of crossing the harbor and the opportunity for some spectacular views of the harbor (one of the world’s most photographed harbors) and Hong Kong Island and Kowloon waterfronts. Operating for over a century, it is highly reliable and most efficient. National Geographic rates the Star Ferry crossing as one of the 50 “places of a lifetime.” My trip to Hong Kong is never complete without a ride in the Star Ferry.

If you watch television especially on prime time, I am flabbergasted by the number of paid commercials of presidential candidates. Wish the network would also provide the names of the donors. It is not yet campaign period yet they are ubiquitous. While what they all say is to serve the people, can they be more specific please? Even the pure and sterling Leni Robredo says she wants to “Patuloy the Daang Matuwid.” I am sure she is cringing when she sees the commuters walking as we all know that she takes the public transport and can relate to them.

Anyway, to you candidates who aspire to lead us, what are your specific plans about this traffic mess? Be precise. What are the improvements in the existing shameful MRT? How many new routes are you planning to build? Tell us where you intend to get the money—from DAP or the budget. And also give us your platform of governance in every aspect that concerns our country. Any Juan can be a president but I want my president to give me something concrete with explicit projects and how you can serve the people; your timetables, your budgets, your sources, so that we know really that you deserve to serve us, your bosses.

Perhaps, for the people paying your commercials, it would be more honorable if you request them instead to put their monies in these huge expenses into upgrading our transport facilities for starters. Instead of the people getting tired of seeing your faces until election time, they will have something to be grateful for and vote for you!
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