A Desire for some Quiet in our Transport System

marikina jeepney

Image from CAI-Asia

NOISY. Our roads are noisy. At 4:00 A.M., I am awakened by the sound of a speeding jeepney on Gil Fernando Avenue, and I don’t even live on that street; I live a block away.  It used to be that the avenue was lined with only a few houses; two of them were particularly beautiful. And as a child, my family would drive around in our owner-type jeep admiring them. From a quiet private subdivision’s arterial road, A. Tuazon has been reclassified into a national road and renamed Gil Fernando Avenue. The notorious Montalban jeepneys ply this road now going to and from Cubao; rerouted from the heart of the older part of town, where I heard a number of accidents have occurred involving the notorious jeepney line.

Katti says, "With millions of people residing in the metropolis (a great number of them hardly able to make ends meet), it is clearly illogical, even unreasonable, to have a transport system that favors the use of the private car..."


Why are our roads noisy? Aside from our inclination for blasting music outside stores to generate attention to our businesses, our roads are noisy because we have too many motor vehicles. For too many decades, the Philippine government’s idea in mobilizing people and boosting economic activity is to build roads—endless kilometers of roads. As a result, the number of vehicles in Metro Manila alone is over 2 million. Across the nation, close to 7.5 million vehicles were registered in 2012, with an average increase of 6 percent per year. Almost 1.3 million of these are newly registered vehicles; and 96 percent of the 1.3 million are private vehicles. Flyovers, underpasses and diversion roads have been built in addition to the main highways but there seems to be no end in our traffic congestion problem.

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The imposition of a number coding scheme by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has had little effect in easing traffic congestion. No less than the head of the MMDA’s Traffic Discipline Office suggested limiting the ownership and use of private cars to ease traffic congestion. This is because those able to afford more cars have been able to circumvent the number coding scheme by acquiring more vehicles with plate numbers to provide them with car use all days of the week.

Now on its 15th year, the Firefly Brigade has been organizing the Tour of the Fireflies to promote the bicycle as an alternative, sustainable mode of transportation. No doubt, the bicycle must be the quietest mode of transportation on earth aside from walking, with exception to bicycles loaded with long air horns and boom box sound systems (which make Firefly rides more fun). However, even within the organization, members are aware that bicycling is not the only solution to our massive land transportation problem. With this awareness, talks have been initiated within the group to reorganize and establish a non-profit organization that will be able to advocate fulltime for sustainable transportation policies in the country. Full time because as a mere volunteer organization, its capacity to respond to the demands of our current transportation problems is very limited.

(Image from change.org)

With millions of people residing in the metropolis (a great number of them hardly able to make ends meet), it is clearly illogical, even unreasonable, to have a transport system that favors the use of the private car. A recent call by netizens initiated by Dinna Dayao, a former Firefly organizer, for public officials to take the bus, jeep, LRT or MRT at least once a month was picked up by several media outfits, laying bare the sad state of our public transportation system. Historically, the Philippine government has been unable to keep up with population growth, thereby relying on its citizenry in providing for the public’s mobility needs. “Public” buses, jeepneys and taxis are provided and operated by the entrepreneurial public, saving the government from large investments needed to transport people.  It is a sad fact that apart from a few mass transportation projects of the Department of Transportation and Communication such as the LRT and MRT, and the Department of Public Works and Highways’ never ending building and widening of roads, our government’s response in providing land transportation service is through mere regulation of numerous privately-owned public transportation providers through the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). Let the citizens fend for themselves. Government will just do its best in keeping things in order. I question, however, how the LTFRB is able to regulate drivers and operators effectively.

In my town, for instance, as I wait by the sidewalk for a jeepney to ride, I can identify from afar which jeepneys are of the Montalban variety because of their ability to sway from side to side as it swerves sharply from one lane to another. Then it would stop in front of me, the waiting pedestrian, with the jeep’s conductor calling out “Tara! T-ra! T-ra!” urgently as if there was an emergency. The jeep’s sound system is blasting its passengers’ ear drums out. Upon stepping onto the jeepney, the driver would speed away, and the conductor will be commanding me, the new passenger, to  “Kapit! Kapit!, Kapit!” As I hold on, I figure out where I am to find space to my left or right, which would really depend on the generosity of the sitting passengers, already cramped together in the seats. Upon handing my “bayad,” I would have to repeatedly demand for the correct change in the din of the throbbing music, because time and again, the Montalban jeepney driver and conductor team adjusts the LTFRB’s official and approved fares according to their own rates. And then upon pulling the string to signal my desire to get off the jeep, I would then have to watch out as I cross the street to get to the side of the road, because the jeepney stopped right in the middle.

It is welcome news that plans to have a bus rapid system (BRT) in the Philippines is now underway. Sometimes described as a "surface subway", the BRT aims to combine the capacity and speed of a light rail or metro system with the flexibility, cost and simplicity of a bus system. The BRT operates within a fully dedicated right of way (busway)in the center of the road for a significant part of its journey in order to avoid traffic congestion. Like the LRT or MRT, a true BRT system will have stations where fares are collected. There will be bus priority at intersections to avoid delays.

A BRT system typically costs 4 to 20 times less than a tram or light rail transit (LRT) system and 10 to 100 times less than a metro system. This is good news for us Filipinos because this means that there would be much less money placed in the pockets of the corrupt. In the BRT system, the deployment of buses will be according to a schedule; buses won’t be speeding, and there would be little honking of horns. If the BRT becomes successful here in the Philippines like in Colombia, Brazil, China, Korea and other places in the world, who knows? I might not have to endure riding Montalban jeepneys anymore. And at 4:00 AM and any time of the day, Gil Fernando Avenue might become a little quiet.

Hmmm. I hope that the next big government project will be electric jeepneys and tricycles. They cause less noise and air pollution.


Katti Sta. Ana is one of the founding officers of the Firefly Brigade. You can like her in her facebook page here.



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