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Lost in time

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The other day my daughter went to meet her mom at the latter’s office from school, going there by jeepney. She has had extensive experience commuting from home to school, and vice versa, but that has the limit of her public transportation skills so far, so she had no idea what jeepney to take to get to her destination. In the end, she was able to look it up on the internet and before boarding, confirmed with the conductor if the jeepney was going to pass by her destination.

It may seem like a simple solution to a simple problem, but it sucks that our public transportation system cannot be integrated with the map apps on our smartphones, simply because the system that is in place hardly qualifies as one. There are no designated stops, no schedules. The jeepney may and can stop anywhere they please, from corners, to intersections, even on pedestrian lanes and in the middle of the street, just because a potential passenger waved at it.

This sort of chaos is something apps like Google Maps or City Mapper simply can’t deal with, because how can they prompt the user to get off and start walking, when you can get off at any time?

This lack of system within the public transportation system is one of the things that makes commuting difficult in the Philippines, not only for first timers, but also for tourists, both international and domestic. Imagine if you were a tourist here in Bacolod who needed to get somewhere but wanted to use public transportation… how in the hell would you get anywhere because there is no system at all? Even if they knew what jeepney to take, how would they know when to get off, and then where to go or what to do next, unless they studiously check their live location on their smartphone, which if you come to think of it, is a terrible idea on public transportation, where such people are the perfect prey for snatchers and pickpockets.

When they said the jeepney would be modernized, the upgrade of the route system to make it world class, or at least app-friendly, was among my naïve expectations. I stupidly thought they would actually modernize the entire public transportation system.

What we got instead was a mild upgrade of the vehicle, putting what was a postwar relic that became an untouchable cultural icon, at par with a 1980s Singapore minibus at best. Our lazy government then passed the entire burden of “upgrading” to the driver/operator, without any significant support to speak of, other than the promise of a loan (with interest of course) for those that can form cooperatives and penalties for those who cannot afford it.

A weak jeepney upgrade would’ve been fine if the transportation system itself were truly modernized, but I guess the latter is too much work.

In a proper “smart” city, my daughter would’ve been able to look up the directions to wherever she wanted to go via public transportation on the Google Maps app on her phone. It would then tell her where to walk, what PUV to take, where/when to get off, and either to transfer or walk, and so on and so forth, until the destination is reached. Those who prefer to DIY travel, rather than sit in guided tour buses, know that this sort of smartness in public transport has already been available in most developed cities for many years now.

That is because their public transportation system has routes with stops and schedules, drivers that actually obey traffic rules and follow dress codes, commuters who aren’t lazy and are willing to walk, and a local government that employs urban planners and traffic engineers instead of political appointees with neither the qualification nor the competencies necessary to make a long term difference.

If we really wanted to modernize our public transportation system, we should’ve applied the noob and tourist test first, just to see how inconvenient and inefficient the current “system” is. If a newbie or a tourist (if you come to think of it, a politician also counts) cannot get around using the jeepney only, then the system probably sucks and is in dire need of improvement.

Our problem is that it has been the same way for decades now, but none of our public officials have done anything about it, probably because they putter about in their SUV convoys, oblivious to the needs of the peasants who they pander to only during the campaign season, with a cute slogan, song and dance, and an envelope of cash.*

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