What is the best way to get around?
We are fortunate enough to live at a spot in the Bay Area where many modes of public transportation are available. From Oakland, we take the train or the ferry to get to and from San Francisco, even to and from the airport, or take the bus or walk to go do groceries or meet up with friends nearby. We only use the car when we are going out for a far hike, or when we have to travel somewhere really remote. I would say we are truly lucky to live where it’s convenient.
“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”
Coming from Manila where public transportation is even more of a stretch (we have jeepneys, pedicabs, tricycles, calesas – and sometimes, when it floods, you can even ride the back of someone for a fee!), the Bay Area transport system is a slightly different, slightly modern change. It’s crazy too how there are even apps that you can download so you would know the exact times a bus or a train would arrive.
Anyway, all I am trying to say is that many rely heavily on public transport, which is why we need to keep our eyes on it more.
Why is public mass transportation important?
Public mass transportation enables. Accessibility is key. A just government enables its citizens, and provides for them the best public transportation possible. It considers the rights of everyone to travel and have their fair share of roads, and make pedestrian safety a top priority. A just government does not only cater to people who own cars, but to the majority who live without cars.
Of the public transport system in the Philippines, the government should invest more on improving the country’s rail transit systems, infrastructure and connectivity, in particular.
Asian Development Bank’s Transport Sector Assessment, Strategy, and Roadmap highlights the insufficiency and ineffectiveness of urban transport planning and traffic management. To quote,
Urban transport planning and traffic management are insufficient and ineffective, and traffic control devices, such as traffic signs, signals, and road markings, often do not conform to social standards or meet needs. Buses form a major element of the urban transport system in Metro Manila but not in other urban centers, while LRT is confined to Metro Manila and is heavily subsidized. Franchising procedures for road-based urban transport are often ineffective and enforcement of regulations is lax. All of these factors contribute to increasing levels of traffic congestion in urban areas, particularly around transit terminals and public markets. This in turn results in longer travel times, loss of economic opportunities and productivity, and increasing air pollution which has become a serious problem in many large urban areas.
Again, the country should invest more in modernizing the train system (and not patronize the car industry as much!). Take, for example, the BART. In the Bay Area, in San Francisco, people heavily rely on the trains as a public method of transportation, even if almost everyone has a car. While there are buses, and more modern alternatives like car share or public carpool, the BART definitely is the number one mass transport system that is helping keep the economy, and the community alive. The BART has its deficiencies, given its age (older than the Philippines’ LRT [Light Rail Transit]), but the public holds it so dearly that the state proposition mandating its improvement passed in easily in the just concluded election.
The BART and the LRT are both under intense scrutiny from the public who want the trains to improve. It is interesting to note though that while BART is older at 40 years, it is more advanced than LRT. Why? Because it is supported, and its users are, too. The use of public transportation is encouraged and people who get on it are actually not treated as inferior to people who have cars.
Shouldn’t we all have this mindset?
The 3E Benefits of Improving the Train System
- Economy.People use the train for two reasons: 1. to save money; and 2. to save time. Improving the train system means we will be able to get to our destinations faster and for a much cheaper rate than we would had we brought our own cars, or have gotten on cabs, or have transferred from one bus to another. In the Philippines, you can buy a beep card for PhP100 ($2.03) with an initial PhP80 ($1.63) load that could get you going for days (of course, depending on where you would go). A clipper card in the Bay Area costs $3 (just the card) and you can top it with credits.
- Ecology.One train fits more people, and this means people who did not have to take their cars to wherever they intended to go. This translates to less car emissions in the road, and less pollutants in the air that can affect people’s health. In BART’s Ridership Report for December 2016, say at Lake Merritt station, 6,420 people took the train (could be over and over but still – and also, this includes us as that’s our stop!). This means less 6,420 cars on the road within that month. Imagine how many cars would be off the highways, if the train system in the country gets modernized.
- Empathy. While this is subjective, I feel that there is more sense of community when space is shared – even in public transport. If you get lucky, you get to meet people and trade stories with them, and learn a few tips from these chance encounters. You get to empathize more when you actually get in contact with others. Shared pain, shared happiness, shared experiences.
To live in a world where having your own car is necessary is scary. Having a car is comfortable, especially since you could get to wherever without the hassle and drama of having to say “hi” to people you do not know; without having to walk and get your shoes dirty; and without having to wait in traffic basking in sweltering heat for a long period of time – BUT, there is also much to be said against it. Again, shared pain, happiness, and experiences. Also, having an uncontrollable amount of cars in our roads (especially – and most likely – with just one person on it) causes heavy traffic, which leads to you having to spend much of your valuable time on the road, breathing filtered polluted air — stuck.
In our selfie-obsessed society, having a car is a boost to one’s image — the fancier your car, the richer you appear; the better your car, the more stable you are. While there could be truth to that on a personal level, on a national scale, it should be otherwise.
Because, in a just society, everyone should be equal — and this is what public mass transportation is all about.
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