May 1, 2023 (10:56 PM)

10 min read

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HIT THE ROAD. Commuters wait patiently as others race towards every incoming PUV in hopes of securing a ride towards their destination.

Photo by Denyz Zaira Persigas

One thing about the life of a commuter is that you never really know what you’re getting.

Sometimes you’ll be left standing inside a bus with the overhead compartments acting as handrails. When it’s time for you to pay the fare, the bus slams hard on the brakes because a car suddenly swerves in your lane without signaling, making you lose balance which, to many, would be embarrassing.

Sometimes you’ll be left paying hundreds of pesos for a taxi ride because the driver acts like a tour guide and has to take you to the Top 10 tourist attractions in Davao City, making the most popular excuse: “Ay, dili traffic diri dapita.”

Sometimes you’ll be left re-enacting the movie 127 Hours inside a jeepney because the driver keeps hollering for more passengers that there’s still enough space when one-half of your buttock is holding on for dear life, the other half just gave up on life in general.

Of course, it’s not all depressing.

While peacefully crossing the pedestrian lane, a motorcycle suddenly speeds up and is about to hit you. Luckily, a cute guy grabs your arm and pulls you back just enough to save you. You would look awkwardly each other in the eye, maybe even feel a spark, and the rest is history. But, nope; we’re talking about the possibilities of street life. So instead, he snatches your wallet and flees.

In a nutshell, the commuter life is a rollercoaster of experiences, and when it comes to addressing and solving this issue, it has been a void of nothingness.

“Full speed ahead,” Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in the assurance of improving the transportation sector a priority. However, what’s speeding ahead instead is the hours lost in traffic, ambiguous pickup and drop-off locations, and a lack of pedestrian support on the highways, all contributing to Filipinos having one of the worst commuting experiences in the world.

In the context of Davao City, according to a city-wide social survey made by the Ateneo de Davao University, 23.7% of the respondents stated that traffic is one of the primary issues in Davao City, ranking second. Additionally, according to a survey among commuters in Davao City made by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), congestion is the leading traffic situation that has been exacerbated over the years, and increased car use is the principal cause of congestion. Currently, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has been contracted to evaluate the current traffic issue and offer recommendations to the city for a successful traffic management system; they will gather information between February 20-25, 2023 through traffic counts, road inventories, visual inspections of existing traffic signal facilities, and focus group discussions to create a capacity-building training course that they will propose to the local government by March. However, the team stated in their initial observation that some locations are highly congested, especially in signal-light intersections.

Commuting is indeed one of the most hellish experiences in our country, especially in Davao City, and we’re all speeding ahead on a highway to hell.

Gone too far(e)

Inflation rates worldwide are high, particularly in the Philippines, where the annual inflation as of February 2023 is 8.6%, just a 0.1% difference from last month.

As a result, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board in Davao Region (LTFRB-Davao) implemented a fare hike on October 3, 2022, for traditional public utility jeepneys (TPUJ) and modern public utility jeepneys (MPUJ), raising the minimum fare for TPUJ to PHP12 and MPUJ to PHP14. Meanwhile, the standard city PUB’s base fare has increased from PHP11 to PHP13. Taxi flag-down rates have also increased from PHP40 to PHP45.

Although the 20% discount for senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and students will continue, this is a significant development, especially since LTFRB-Davao recently announced three months prior that on July 1, 2022, the minimum fare for jeepneys has increased to PHP11 from PHP10 due to the same reason that gas prices are getting higher. 

For this reason, who knows, with the growing inflation rate, what if there is another fare hike for this month or the next? That 20% discount will not be enough to shoulder everyday expenses for our commuters, especially those living in far-flung areas and with the onslaught of abusive drivers.

According to Ms. Daphne, a 2nd-year BS Nursing student, as somebody with limited allowance and who lives very far outside of Davao City, she has to find ways to save some money, and that was through negotiating with drivers to lower their fares.

Moreover, there were times when tricycle drivers would overcharge her even if her destination’s near, and sometimes she had no choice but to accept their deal as she was running late for school.

“Sometimes, they would ask for high prices like PHP20, even if it was declared that PHP15 is the new standard fare for a tricycle. So, a lot of bargaining is happening: “Kuya, pwede 15 na lang?”  Sometimes, they wouldn’t agree with that, and they’ll say, “Ma’am, bente na lang na, ma’am.” And since I don’t have any other choice because I’m in a hurry, I would grab the 20.”

Congestion service

In addition to the rise in fares, there’s also a rise in stranded commuters due to the insufficient presence of public utility jeepneys (PUJs) during rush hours. With this lack of anticipation from the city government of Davao, many people, especially students, pregnant women, and senior citizens, bear the inconvenience of not getting a ride right away, from enduring the scorching heat to evading the frigid rainfall.

To alleviate this, the City Government of Davao implemented the Peak Hours Augmentation Bus Service (PHABS), where additional buses will be dispatched during peak hours. As of January 2023, the City Transport and Traffic Management Office (CTTMO) has partnered with bus companies to create a more developed monitoring system that makes it simple to dispatch buses once there are reports of passengers being stranded on the streets. This system includes additional ground monitors, inspectors, and buses.

However, this does not seem to be enough to provide a solution. According to Ms. Daphne, some commuters still struggle to catch a ride home. When the additional buses arrive, it’s usually already congested with many standing passengers.

“Whenever I’m at Buhangin, the seats of the buses are already occupied with standing as the only option, and as somebody who easily gets sore feet, I wouldn’t usually go for it, especially since it takes about 2 hours from where I live. However, as somebody with a curfew, sometimes I don’t have a choice but to take it.”

She also added that it’s particularly tough for passengers who live in far-flung areas to catch a ride home since only a limited number of buses cater to their destination, so they have no other choice but to take a bus that will merely pass by their location.

According to Ms. Julianne, an employee who commutes to and from work, there are also times when buses wouldn’t allow passengers to stand, so your waiting time will be longer, leading to you being late for work.

One thing is clear: there is a lack of consistency. With many stranded commuters congested on sidewalks to standing commuters congested in buses, it has led to people opting to buy their modes of transportation to avoid the hustle and bustle, which leads to congested traffic. Ultimately, it makes mass transportation not serve the masses sufficiently.

High uncertainty system

Nevertheless, city officials have highlighted that the present bus supplementation through the PHABS is merely a temporary solution to the absence of public transportation in some locations during peak hours. The permanent answer is the High Priority Bus System (HPBS), a transportation modernization project in Davao City that addresses commuters’ safety concerns while promoting a security culture for a better public transportation experience through accommodating revamped buses. Although, this would phase out the local area’s jeepney network.

According to a report by MindaNews, only 15-year-old jeepneys and those no longer roadworthy would be scrapped. Yet, that’s the majority of the city’s jeepneys. Furthermore, the drivers of the scrapped jeepneys will be given preference when hiring by the operators of the HPBS buses. They will first need to complete training with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to gain the necessary skills before becoming bus drivers.

However, according to a report by AlterMidya, only 45 jeepney drivers had completed TESDA’s training.

In short, the project lacks certainty, and the commuters interviewed seem to agree. Ms. Daphne said that phasing out jeepneys is a tremendous leap forward, especially with its underlying implications.

“For me, jeepneys are a lifesaver because they’re so budget-friendly, and I can save a lot of money in a day, and if the government plans to pursue this implementation, I’m not sure if this will be budget-friendly as well because, at the end of the day, it is still a business.”

She also added that as somebody who has done fieldwork in a poor, rural community, she resonated with the jeepney drivers and how not everyone has that source of income in adapting to this new system, especially if it’s their only income.

“I understand the need for change in our transportation system, but just because it will help the majority does not mean we should forget the minority affected.”

Ms. Julianne also shares the same sentiment.

“I think it won’t be implemented as it should be because of the ongoing dispute between the government and the drivers, which ultimately will affect commuters in the long run. I hope they will instead consider fair, equitable modernization where no one gets left behind.”

Fortunately, the Senate encouraged the LTFRB to delay its intention to phase out conventional jeepneys countrywide by June 30 while they examined the project. It was later extended until December 31, 2023, so they could ensure the modernization program addressed the concerns raised by transport groups. Nonetheless, all remain uncertain.

Such is the commuting life

With all these inconsistencies and uncertainties in Davao City’s public transportation system, we may never know what we’re getting. 

Of course, it’s not all depressing, for real, this time.

Ms. Daphne said that what remains consistent and certain, however, is that commuters and drivers share the same predicament: we’re all just trying to get to our destination. 

“It’s nice to know that despite the plight that we commuters face daily, there are traces of kindness from strangers. From drivers who can sympathize with students with limited allowances, so they lower their fare a little, even if it gets them in trouble to fellow passengers giving their seats to the most vulnerable, even if they paid for their seats, those little things help tremendously in alleviating the nuisance of commuting life. It’s nice to know that no matter what happens, we can always lean on the people around us to take our bayad and give back our change.”

One thing is clear: we may have different experiences, but we commuters share the same ride, and that means something. 

Although public commuting in Davao City, or the Philippines in general, is so demanding that it has been called dehumanizing. Nonetheless, even with long wait times for rides and traffic jams, what endures and remains humanizing is our welcoming, inclusive, and caring commuter culture, from giving someone a seat or showing someone how to get to their destination. Even though we may not have the authority to pass laws or have a say in the government’s initiatives, no matter what occurs, we, commuters, have the power to establish a culture of care in our public transportation.

This article was published in the April 2023 Issue of Atenews. Read it here: https://issuu.com/atenews/docs/atenews_2023_tabloid



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