Cars have come to be a symbol of success, a means of escaping the drama of having to commute to work. But even then, driver stories have always revolved around the same discouraging theme—How miserable our lives have been driving to and from work; How gas per liter and parking per hour have been constantly going up; How the drive this morning was extra terrible because of construction to widen the road.
This has been the same conversation for years, barely shifting if only in terms of degree. Increasing time spent on the road, rising fuel prices, and the battle for cheap parking. Is it really a success story?
More on moving around in the city:
In recent years, as more people travel and with increased access to social media, we were introduced to a different brand of getting around the city. Other people in other countries are commuting—and not in the way that we see around here. People go to work in buses and trains—and definitely not in the way that we see around here. We momentarily plant ourselves in that lifestyle and we imagine walking from our homes to a bus stop or a metro station. Then we snap out of that dream sequence and we tell ourselves: “Hay, asa pa!” Meanwhile, we pack our bags, drive home, and long for widened roads.
A former colleague once said that If you want things to be different, then we need to do different things. We need to restore dignity in commuting. Stop systemically discriminating against ordinary commuters. Develop and promote reliable mass transport. Walking and biking should be safe and comfortable. While congestion is just a symptom, the better question is how we can improve mobility. And, in order to improve everyone’s mobility, we need to focus on the actual needs of ordinary commuters.
What began as a discussion over pizza, our draft of a bill that sets commuter rights - one that actually places commuter welfare at the center, has now been filed five times in both Houses of Congress: Three in Senate (Kiko Pangilinan, Grace Poe, and Manny Pacquaio) and two in the House (Rep. Albee Benitez and Rep. Allan Benedict Reyes, as co-authored by Deputy House Speaker Pimentel).
Here is the premise in a nutshell: people who take public transportation are the whopping majority at 80 percent, but are only allocated 20 percent of road space. In cities where space is a scarce resource, improving public transportation (PT) is a very efficient answer. For the same space, buses can transport 15 times more than private vehicles (PVs).
So, the solution is quite direct; if we shift our focus to the needs of the majority and present PT as a more efficient mode of transport, then we are able to address congestion and actually get people to their destination more efficiently and more comfortably.
Here are our five main components of our proposal:
- There should be a public transport stop or terminal within 500 meters of residences, schools, offices, commercial areas, and other activity centers.
- Waiting time for all public transport services should be less than 10 minutes during peak demand periods.
- Public transport should be prioritized on roads such that services are able to travel 15 kilometers within 1 hour.
- Mobility policies and projects should be inclusive and accessible to people of all ages, abilities, gender, and economic status. This means unobstructed sidewalks, allocation of bicycle lanes, and provision of facilities for people with disability.
- A Commuters Affairs Office, a one-stop shop that would assist commuters and ensure adequate representation in any public consultation that will impact on the welfare and interest of commuters, should be established. Interestingly, nothing in the bill is rocket science, and anyone that has actually walked, biked, or taken public transport can easily see the relief that these would brings.
I’m writing this from a development workshop where we will hopefully understand how to plot our next steps. We’re learning as we go along and, as we go along, we meet people along the way that volunteer support. We can’t do it alone—and we don’t want to do this alone. We want to share this journey of building and demanding for a better Philippines. We place the fate of the bill, not just in Congress, but on everyone that wants a more livable city.
Three months in, discussions have slowly started shifting to more sustainable and effective ways to address mobility in the city. One that, for a change, puts ordinary #CommutersNaman at the heart of discussions.
Ira Cruz is one of the directors at AltMobility PH, and handles communications & public engagement, and active transport at a local government unit. He rides his electric kick scooter around the city—on the streets, in the bus, and on trains. He continues his mission home and begins the shift in point of view of the next generation by heavily exposing his kids to walking, biking, and mass public transportation. For more information, visit @AltMobilityPH on Facebook. To volunteer, click on bit.lyCommutersNamanMessenger. To view the original draft, and the Senate and House Bills, click on bit.ly/CommutersNamanBills