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Minimum fare

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I know it’s probably getting old, but my recent trip to Hiroshima, Japan, where we scoped out the city as we dropped off our child to start university life, gave me so much material to discuss because we spent our time there not as tourists, but as parents evaluating the cost of living and quality of life that they will need to spend for their child to live there for the next four years.

We checked out the cost of food, groceries, transportation, and since it was a totally different culture, we also learned the many hows and whys along the way. The only thing I didn’t learn during that trip was how to speak more Japanese, which I should do if we are going back there a bit more often, because although Japan is already one of our top places to visit on the planet, we now have even more reason to come back.

Anyway, the topic for the day is the transport system.

In Hiroshima, there are two main types of public transportation: bus and tram. For both, the minimum fare is JPY220, which is approximately PHP88 at the current exchange rate. Compared to the Filipino minimum fare, that’s quite a lot, but as with all things, you get what you pay for.

Aside from the fare difference, one of the biggest differences from our system is like most developed countries, their trams and buses run on a schedule and you can only get on and off at a designated stop. The stops usually have the schedule posted there, but if not, you can always look it up on the very helpful Google Maps app, which tells you when, where, and how much a ride is. Their public transportation doesn’t stop and wait until it is filled up. It stops when/where it is scheduled for, just for a few seconds to pick up passengers, and then goes on its merry way to the next stop. Unlike here, where everything is unpredictable because commuters are at the mercy of the driver who can stop and go anywhere and anytime they please, you can actually plan your day around the public transport schedule.

Regarding the minimum fare of JPY220, which is no joke, I began to understand why it is priced like that after a few days of using public transportation to run our various errands as we were setting up for the dormitory. Their public transportation is not cheap so that everyone will not use it on a whim, the vehicles don’t get overloaded, and it gets used properly. A minimum fare that hurts means that more people walk and/or bike if they can. They can do this because they have proper roads, sidewalks and traffic rules that allow pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists to efficiently share the resource.

By day 3, we had figured out, vis-a-vis our budget, when it is best to walk, when to take bus or tram, and for a group of 3 or more, when to take a taxi. If we could add bicycles to the equation, then the computations could change, but we more or less understood the logic behind their minimum fare. If you don’t want to pay for it, you can walk or bike. When you are willing to pay for it, it’s going to be worth it.

There are no trisikads, tricycles, no stop-anywhere jeepneys to spoil them and muck up the roads with their special brand of chaos. People of all ages and physical attributes are ready and willing to walk to where they need to go, and if it’s a bit further than the walking distance they are used to, then they pay the minimum fare to use a clean, efficient, and safe public transport system. Unlike the Philippines, they don’t even have to call their bus or tram “modern” because the system that they have in place, which looks like it’s been there since the city started rebuilding after being atomic bombed, just works.

Of course there are modern features like tap-to-pay, screens showing the next destination, and change machines (which blew my mind to be honest, deserving another topic), but the system isn’t that modern because we were able to use it without needing the tap card, transacting purely in cash without running into problems. The point is that calling something “modern” like we did our jeepneys, without putting in the work to build a basic system, becomes a joke when it is compared to the public transportation system like the one we experienced in the relatively small Japanese city of Hiroshima.

For those curious about the ambient temperature, we were there at the tail end of summer, so the highs were at around 28-30C, which isn’t that cool and can even be a bit uncomfortable when walking distances one isn’t used to in the Philippines. So the excuse that it’s much cooler there isn’t really valid, because it can also get hot there and yet they still manage.

Experiencing how the public transportation in Hiroshima worked made me jealous it as something we could do here too, if only our public officials had the vision and political will to drop a figurative atomic bomb on the current system that just doesn’t work and isn’t sustainable, so we can force our society to adapt to a better one and truly modernize the jeepney “system”.*

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