Out of Touch

Sec. Jun Abaya’s right: he shouldn’t be offering excuses on the state of the MRT. But there’s a difference between offering and making them.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the MRT may not be the rotten deathtrap that many people paint it to be. Maybe people just don’t have the right metaphors for a very uncomfortable form of public transit. There’s always the overcrowded bus on a congested major highway, for example. Or prohibitively expensive taxi cabs. Or one may just consider buying a car.

But here’s thing: Sec. Abaya asks, why would anyone put up with it? Sec. Abaya claims that if ordinary people put up with it, there should be no reason why it’s “bulok.” Sec. Abaya also propounds that if you spruce up the MRT, you can even turn it into a tourist attraction.

There – with all the benefit of the doubt given up to this point – is the problem. A sense of being out of touch.

Here’s the thing: of course people put up with the MRT. For all the discomforts and delays and crowdedness and the occasional derailment, it still provides a small convenience for people who depend on fast transportation to get to their jobs. But that is not a reason for the MRT to continue being uncomfortable, delayed, crowded, and even derailed. “Pwede na” may be acceptable for a lot of things, but not with things as essential as mass transit.

What Sec. Abaya may not realize at this point is that the people who ride the MRT are people who are left with no other choice than to use it. If there were other means of public transport that offer the same value that an MRT gives, then the MRT would just be another option. It’s not: for all intents and purposes, that train is the artery of the metropolis.

Granted that the MRT does not malfunction or is delayed every hour on the hour, or does not get derailed every day. But there is no reason for any of those things to happen anyway. Cheap as the tickets may be to some of us, many commuters find fare costly: whether it’s a jeep or a bus or, heaven forbid, a taxi. The cost of getting a stored-value ticket at P100 is an amount that may be unimaginable to many workers to spend on. The fare both ways may be one of the many inconveniences they have to deal with to make a living. And with all that passenger volume and revenue, the least we can expect are better coaches, more trains, and a little more security. Considering how long this system has operated, those expectations are minimal.

And then there’s the coy comment on making the MRT a “tourist destination.” Sure, it’s probably made in jest, but what’s off-putting about it is that we don’t expect our mass transit systems to be rides at Enchanted Kingdom. They’re just supposed to work. Now I don’t know how many times a DOTC Secretary has had a ride on the MRT (much less Sec. Abaya), but those are not expectations you set or claims you make when you’re a regular commuter. And it’s fairly reasonable to say that no one has to put up with the MRT the way it is now, regardless of the whimsical picture of mass transit that Sec. Abaya is painting for us.

This may sound a bit off-tangent, but this is symptomatic of the kind of out-of-touch reality government officials hang on to, especially when confronted with the problems of common people. If there’s a hunger incidence problem, we change the dietary requirements needed for a typical family of four. If the ports are congested, we point to the growth of the economy. The problem with the MRT is that it’s not working: it functions as a train should, but it fails to serve people adequately. And there’s no clear and honest admission of that whatsoever. What do we make of all of this, then, when the first step to finding a common and proper solution to the problem isn’t even clear?

Maybe we should just put a roller coaster on top of the MRT. Just to accommodate the whimsy.

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