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The MRT Rush Hour Challenge

The MRT Rush Hour Challenge

Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 at the Guadalupe Station in Makati City

Aboard the ten-year-old train, a commuter observed certain manners that are definitely Filipino.

“Out of service.” These are the three annoying words that greeted Julio when he arrived at the base of the escalator.

It is a warning that conditions commuters to prepare themselves to walk up the 38-step escalator because the facility has not been in operation for months. He wondered when will it be deinstalled and replace with real stairs.

Up in Guadalupe Station, there was a blockbuster queue of passengers waiting for entry. The guards in white and blue uniforms were absorbed in their routine security checks – poking in the bags, opening and inspecting wrapped packages, and frisking. This manual check, he observed, actually slows down the human traffic and Julio needs to deal with it everyday despite the fact that the guards have already known him by face. He touched his pocket to reassure himself that his stored value ticket was there, so he does not have to line up to get in front of the ticket booth.

He surveyed the long line of people, then proceeded along with other commuters to find the end of the line. The line of male commuters was longer than the female’s. Based on his mental calculation, it was over 50 meters long. The line went down the stairs at the other side and outside the station at the sidewalk alongside EDSA. It was four o’clock in the afternoon and he hoped to get into the train after 15 minutes in order to log in time and not be late at work. But with the current scenario, that was unlikely to happen.

Julio looked around and tried to distract himself. In EDSA, the volume of vehicles was increasing. The ordinary buses were packed with passengers; many of them were standing, huddling at the edge of the doorway. Behind him, more and more commuters were adding to the queue. At the stairs, there was an old man sitting beside an assortment of candies and cigarettes. Julio gazed at him and wondered how much he earns for a living everyday.

Inch by inch, the line moved forward until he was standing face-to-face with the ladyguard who was very polite. He was only carrying his insulator bag that contained his food for dinner (or lunch as the employees in the BPO industry call it), so there was nothing much to check. He inserted his ticket in the automatic gate and slid into the platform for a momentary relief.

Commuters were now lined up behind the yellow tiles on the platform. There were supposed to be two lines only as indicated by two yellow arrows on the floor pointing towards the doors when the train comes to a halt. An arrow in between indicates that a space should be allowed for alighting passengers. That was not the order.

Julio positioned himself at what he noticed to be the shortest line, about ten people long. The Christmas breeze could be felt through the open air and the melody of 80’s songs were heard from the speakers above, perhaps to appease commuters and prevent them from getting impatient while waiting for the train.

More than seven minutes later, the train arrived. There was a jungle of people inside. With three people getting off, twice of that would attempt to get in simultaneously, and that made it difficult for one to find a way out. After the third train, Julio was able to force his way in. He was pushed from behind and his hand was flailing in the air in search for something to grip on.

From a capacity of 320,000 passengers, MRT ridership goes up to 560,000 passengers daily, a report says. The congestion was suffocating. If one stands below five feet, he or she needs to tiptoe in order to breathe. Julio felt the beads of sweat outrunning each other down from his temple. The atmosphere was humid and the smell of sweat dominated the myriad of scents circulating inside the train.

Why are we suffering this, Julio asked himself. The question probes a number of complex issues before it can be answered. But one thing Julio was certain of, it was in part because of the attitude that Filipinos have in dealing with problems that concern them. They strike while the iron is hot, but seldom eagerly follow through. He’s guilty of this, too. They become complacent and tolerant when battles begin to consume their energy. Pabayaan mo na nga. Lilipas din yan. Makakaraos din. It is the same attitude that makes them vulnerable to abuse and even injustice.

As the wagon wobbled on the rusty rail tracks underneath, his body was pressed against the others’. They were standing almost cheek-to-cheek and he could feel a warm breath blowing on his nape. He tried to turn his head around. There were smiles on the faces of his fellow passengers; others were laughing.

If there was one thing that Julio liked about this experience, it was the fact that MRT equalizes people from all walks of life. Everyone – rich and poor, white- and blue-collared workers, professionals and non-professionals, graduates and undergraduates – receive a fair share of the chaos. Another thing is that the experience validates some Filipino values as in the case of gentlemen vacating their seats and offering them to the ladies or elderly. Julio could still hear the courteous and gentle “Excuse me po!” when one has to find a way out.

In the past months, MRT has been a subject of controversy due to multiple glitches and service interruptions. The most unfortunate and embarrassing of which was the accident in Taft Avenue Station in Pasay City last August 13 that injured almost 40 people.

Last August 29, Senator Grace Poe, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Services, personally experienced the agony of commuters when she took the MRT rush hour challenge, although she said that MRT is not a hopeless situation. In an independent survey conducted by her office, the MRT received a rating of 4 or conditional failure.

Next year, effective 4th of January, another burden shall be shouldered by ordinary commuters. Julio hoped that with the increase of his current fare from 12 to 20 pesos from Guadalupe Station to Quezon Avenue Station, the MRT services will also improve. He was excited to see new systems to cut the queueing time, more trains to alleviate overcrowding, cleaner restrooms with functioning flush and handsoap that does not run out, efficient air conditioning system, and escalators and elevators that are not always out of service when you need them most.

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