Saturday, August 08, 2015

Commuting joys

I AM going home.

After three years in Manila, I’m wrapping up my studies. I’m packing odd mementoes of my exile.

Boxes are bursting with drafts and notes, a nauseating forest of paper I cannot leave behind. The Lenovo netbook, bought at the start of my course work, just gave a death rattle. Rather than replace the battery, I just plug this wheezing companion, which has stored without fail all the drivel I dished out these years.

But there is one partner I cannot take back to Cebu: the Metro Rail Transit (MRT).

My friend Olive, who took me on an MRT tutorial when I started my studies, texted me: “ur lucky ur graduating also from the MRT now that it’s falling apart”.

Three years of regularly commuting from Makati to Quezon City via MRT entitles me to claim personal knowledge of at least one extreme sport: MRT-riding.

MRT trains are “five times more deadly” than counterparts in other countries. Last June 19, The Philippine Star reported that the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham) disclosed that 3.48 injuries were recorded for every 100 million passenger-miles covered by the MRT in 2013. This is 2.78 higher than the 0.7 injuries recorded for U.S. trains.

The advocacy group’s findings were based on a comparison of the MRT and U.S. trains that were of 15-16 years. Trains of this vintage were plying US railways from 2003 to 2008. Since 2013 up to the present, the Metro Manila public commutes on MRT trains of the same vintage.

Agham’s call for better maintenance echoes the demand made for years by commuters, other advocates, and Netizens. A June 24 report in The Philippine Star disclosed that the delivery of 48 new trains intended for the MRT-3 will be moved from the last quarter of this year to January next year.

For commuters, this demands more endurance for MRT realities: queues snaking like human trains, crowds, frayed tempers, vulnerability to pickpockets and gropers, and discomfort and other risks for the elderly, pregnant women, nursing mothers, disabled, and adults with young children.

In Manila, home of a million and one malls, Fridays are to be fervently avoided by faint-hearted commuters. Since the MRT-3 covers about a dozen or so stations, which are connected to major malls, the eternal cycle of weekend mall sales redefines torture for commuters who must resort to the most primal instinct for survival just to hold on to their stake in a spot in the MRT no wider than their two feet.

Throw in the rainy season, flash floods, and people who dive under speeding trains—that’s the unlovely slice of commuting life in the bowels of the MRT.

So why will I miss the MRT when I go back to Cebu soon?

In a country where normal means nothing goes right, the MRT inarticulately argues why Pinoys deserve better. I sat beside a young mother and her toddler during early afternoon rush hour. Holding on to her son with one hand, she used her other hand to retrieve a water bottle from the knapsack she locked with her feet, cover herself preparatory to nursing him, wipe his face, chuck him under the chin, and brush her hair.

She did this without fuss as the ageing train lumbered past 10 stations. During one of those days when half of the metro seems to be inside the trains and the other half, waiting to go in. Don’t they deserve better?

(mayette.tabada@gmail.con/ 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 28, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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