Choke Points (An Ecstasy of Crowding)

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Cubao is a place you either love to hate, or hate to love.

There are a lot of things I like about Cubao.  As much as I hate malls, I really like Gateway.  Cubao is also a great place to do ukay, provided you have the patience and a lot of haggling skills.  Being the transport hub of the Metropolis, you can get to any point in the NCR just by being at Cubao, provided you know train routes, bus routes, jeepney routes, and have enough courage to walk Aurora Boulevard alone.  Aurora is also home to great mami, if you’re too late or too lazy to head on over to Binondo.  On the other hand, I hate Cubao for having a place called “Session Road” that stinks to high heavens with the mingling odors of diesel, urine, and fish.  There’s no place in Cubao where you can whip out your cellphone with confidence.  And the fact that it’s a transport hub, which means that it can get crowded and rowdy at times.

In the 13 stations of the MRT, there are four choke-points.  North Avenue, being the first station, takes the passengers from the CAMANAVA area and Novaliches.  Cubao is a major choke-point because it is the main transport hub of Metro Manila.  Ayala Station is dead-center of the Makati CBD, so it can be chaotic at times.  Taft Avenue, being the last station, takes up the passengers of everyone coming from Pasay City and everyone else south of it.

For a regular MRT commuter, Cubao is akin to the allegories of Dante, the muckraking of Upton Sinclair, and the “Huh?” moments you get watching “The World’s Biggest Gang Bang.”  Most trains already get to full capacity when they depart from the first station at North Avenue, then load up at Quezon Avenue and GMA-Kamuning.  Cubao is where push comes to shove.

Morning south-bound routes tend to be a test of patience, and to a certain extent, common sense.  For example, if you ride the MRT every day, it makes no sense to buy single-journey tickets every day.  Or if you know that the train is already loaded up, you wouldn’t try to pack the commuters already inside the train just so that you can afford yourself an extra few inches of space.  Of course, there’s that other alternative: wake up early and catch the first train to wherever you’re working, and spare yourself the hassle of the crowd.  Although some friends of mine swear by the “quicker” commuting solution to get to Makati from Cubao: ride LRT-2 from Cubao to Recto, and board the LRT-2 from Doroteo Jose to Gil Puyat.  It kind of makes sense, but who would believe in the sensibility of riding two trains and get to your destination quickly, instead of waiting for 30 minutes for space at one train?

I find it inconvenient to board the MRT at night whenever I go home from work, because I’m not actually in a hurry.  Whenever I go home, I take the bus.  (The other alternative would be to ride a jeepney that plys the Ortigas-Libis-Cubao route, ride a jeep bound for Lagro at Cubao, stop at Philcoa, and take another ride to UP Campus.  It’s expensive and impractical, but it sure as hell is faster than a bus by five precious minutes.)  That itself is not without its disadvantages and consequences…

Air-conditioned buses may be a nice way to get somewhere in Metro Manila, but it can get expensive (not to mention overloaded).  The choke-point is, of course, my least-favorite mall in Manila: Farmer’s Plaza.  What makes this place so dangerous and so irritating for bus commutes is that queuing is optional; it’s all a matter of getting to a bus door.

The irritated commuters in Cubao generally are people who would overlook personal discipline and blame things on the more mundane non-problems of the bus system.  Every bus is bound to have a problem, not the least of which is the complaint of a man who shouted that there aren’t “enough” doors on the bus, that’s why they can’t board.  It’s hard to reason with old men; I think there are more legitimate, perfectly understandable reasons for the failings of the bus operators than bus design.

So what does this tell us?  I have absolutely no idea, knowing that all the hectoring and preaching about “discipline” and “order” only results to justifying a lack of it – or its absence, even – in terms of your standing in the economy, or the failings of those richer than you.  As much as I hate to admit it, the Filipino consciousness has been so corrupted with convenience, with being “first” “in” “a line,” and just about everything else.

It’s a lot like Cubao: you either love to hate the justification, or you hate to love it.

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