Metro transport woes worsen as Christmas nears
Returning from a trip to the province one Friday afternoon in September, 23-year-old Mary Jovelle Santiago took a bus from the airport to her home in Marikina City, her first time to do that.
Had she not done so, she would have had to pay P700-P800 for a GrabCar ride from Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) Terminal 2 to Riverbanks in Marikina, or P500-600 for GrabTaxi during the rush hours.
She hopped on the UBE Express premium bus at Terminal 3 for the 75-minute ride from the airport to Araneta Center in Quezon City, spending P225—almost a third of what she would have paid for Grab. From Cubao, she got on a UV Express that took her home to Riverbanks for P25.
“There’s just something about taking public transport that makes the journey feel faster,” Santiago posted on the Facebook group “How’s Your Byahe, Bes,” a repository of commuters’ concerns in the metro.
“I don’t feel like I’m stuck in a car in the traffic. I feel like I’m moving when I take the bus and train. I guess that’s why even if the public transport system sucks, I still prefer [it],” she said.
Santiago, a development worker for a nongovernmental organization, is among the millions of Metro Manila commuters who suffer from a public transport system that one recent study characterized as notorious for long wait times, packed stations and high fares.
Another commuter who knows about enduring the miseries of public transportation, journalist Jodesz Gavilan prefers being picked up by a family member when arriving from abroad.
“It’s expensive because [of the] gas and toll, as well as the intense traffic, but I think it’s OK if you think about the stress [of taking the public transport] after hours of flying,” said Gavilan, 29.
She had experience finding no one who could tell her where to get the point-to-point bus service from the airport to Quezon City, so she was forced to take a taxi.
On Wednesday, she returned from Amsterdam, whose efficient public transportation system ranked it sixth in urban mobility readiness and 11th in public transport among 60 cities around the world.
Another journalist, Atom Araullo, knows from experience from his travels through Naia “what a broken transportation system looks like.”
“Just arrived at the airport from an overseas trip,” he said in a tweet on Dec. 9. “No coupon taxis, no metered taxis, no Grab. Wala rin tayong mga bus at tren dito (We also have no bus or train here). Basically kung wala kang sundo (if you have no one to pick you up), you’re dead. It’s been an hour and counting.”
According to the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), 3.1 million passed through Naia last month, a 229-percent increase from the same period last year.
This could explain why it was more difficult this time to book a ride from the airport, especially during rush hours.
Social media users recently shared their problems in getting a ride home from Naia due to a lack of public transportation. Travelers ended up waiting for hours just to book a ride from GrabCar, they said.
“It will worsen as Christmas comes closer,” The Passenger Forum convener Primo Morillo told the Inquirer on Thursday.
He said some travelers were forced to hire a private car and spend more just to have a comfortable ride home. While this solves one problem, he said it also contributes to further road congestion.
Morillo said Naia needed to be connected with other modes of public transportation, such as buses and UV Express, and to transport hubs and terminals.
Unlike in progressive Southeast Asian countries, there is no train to Naia.
According to a fare guide created by Metro MNL Lines, a taxi ride from Naia Terminal 3 to Pasay could cost around P100 and P500-P600 if the drop-off is in Caloocan or farther north of Manila. It did not factor in the waiting time, which may add to the fare, especially during rush hours.
Araullo said in a Facebook post that “diskarte,” or resourcefulness, “is not a feature of good public transportation.”
He said that “in reality, it proves that a problem exists, and we’re just trying to deal with it” for the sake of being “resilient.”
‘Airport to anywhere’
On Thursday, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) said that the MIAA and Grab Philippines had partnered to “enhance” transport service in what they called the “Airport to Anywhere” program to boost transportation options for travelers arriving at Naia.
At least 200 Grab cars could be booked from the airport to anywhere in Metro Manila through the Grab mobile app. The fare price would be fixed based on the destination and there would be no surge charges.
The MIAA “expects the upward trend in passenger traffic to be more pronounced” starting Friday as more Filipinos come home for Christmas.
Wyman Forum and the University of California, Berkeley in their 2022 Urban Mobility Readiness Index report said Metro Manila’s public transportation system had been notorious for long wait times, packed stations and high fares. The report examined 60 cities in Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa and North America.
Metro Manila ranked 58th in overall urban mobility readiness, including factors such as infrastructure, social impact, market attractiveness, systems efficiency and innovation.
The report classified Metro Manila as a “lagging city,” placing 56th in public transit, just above Johannesburg, Riyadh, Nairobi and lowest ranked Jeddah.
It described Metro Manila’s roads as “congested and polluted” but that the low level of car ownership could help prevent these problems from worsening.In a response to the report, the DOTr said it accepted the challenge to provide better passenger experience and improve mobility.
Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said the agency “welcomes suggestions, even criticisms” as a way to identify gaps and tackle problems in public transportation.
The transport chief hopes that ongoing government rail projects, such as the Metro Manila subway, the North-South Commuter Railway or the Clark-Calamba Railway, and the LRT Line 1 extension could help decongest major roads of cars. But it will take several years for these projects to be completed.
More than 77,000 signatories to a petition started by Move as One Coalition two years ago called for an “affordable, efficient and humane public transportation for Filipinos.”
It said that the country’s public transportation system was a “ticking time bomb,” which endangers “the safety and mobility of 88 percent of households who are not rich enough to own cars.”