Sep 7, 2007

Frustrated Commuter

Aloha from Hawai'i! Or as the natives would say it, "Havai'i". I've been in this lovely little chunk of paradise for nearly two weeks now...about as long a vacation as anyone would have here. I have been in the middle of starting school, unpacking, organizing things, getting TB tests ('nother story for another time), but still it would be reasonable to assume I've seen my fair share of this place they call "paradise". Wrong! What I have actually seen is just how substandard the public transportation really is in this country of ours.

First off, lemme give you some background as to where these accusations of mine stem from. Many of you may know I lived in the Philippines for about 2 years (if you don't know where that is, it's that donkey-head shaped country below Taiwan). Within days, nay, hours of stepping out of the Ninoy Aquino Intl. Airport in Manila, I was exposed to the unique and exceptional methods of transportation employed there. Let me outline the three main modes of transportation in the Philippines, starting with...

...the bus! After arriving in Manila, getting about 3 hours of sleep, and taking my first cold shower (ever?), me and my other American amigo were dropped off at the Victory Liner bus station in downtown Manila. What we were confronted with was a terminal full of buses headed in every which way direction (it actually only looked like they were headed in every which way direction...they were in fact only heading in two different directions). Keep in mind, this other American and I haven't been on Philippines soil for more than 6 hours and don't know much more than "Hi I'm a missionary" in Tagalog. Here we see the first advantage of transpo in the Philippines: if you're going north (we were), you board a bus that is going that direction, and likewise if you're going south. So we did. We paid our fare, got on the bus, and waited to leave. Once we left Manila, the hiway turns into a two-lane hiway. Quick clarification here...when I say two-lane hiway I mean one lane going one direction, and one going the other. Anyone wishing to go north, be it buses, jeepney's, tricycles, autos, or whatever else, has to travel on this hiway. How deeply mistaken I was to assume the bus was going to be the slow poke out of them all. On the contrary, the bus is the king of the road! The bigger you are, the more power you have on the hiway. Imagine a full size bus storming down a two-lane hiway and forcing everything in it's path literally onto the shoulder! I'm not just talking about vehicles it wishes to pass in it's own lane, but vehicles in the opposite lane as well! If a bus wants to pass you, he'll come up real close behind you, swerve into the opposite lane, then when even with you will probably start to scoot back into the lane, forcing you to either slow down, get into the shoulder, or both! All this time while he's passing you, the same rules apply to vehicles in the opposite lanes: get in the shoulder! So what I assumed was going to be a slow and tiring journey actually proved to be the fastest mode of transpo we could've taken in the Philippines! Here's the best part about buses...they'll stop and pick you up no matter where you are! All you do is stand on the side of the road and wave one down and they'll stop (or at least slow down) and let you get on and proceed to collect you fare while in transit. In most locations you can catch a bus 24/7; no reservations, no hassles! Just wave 'em down and ride!

Next we have the jeepney! The bus is the best transportation for long trips, but for a quick jaunt to a neighboring town, the grocery store, o kung saan-saan pa, the best choice is the jeepney. I won't take the time to give the history of them ('cuz that'd require some actual research!), but what they are basically is an extended jeep with matching parallel benches running through the bed of it. The average jeepney can fit about 10 people on each bench. Plus one more...that little kid can sit on his mom's lap. Oh, one more also next to that grandma, just scoot together a little more. Ah, and a couple more there on the right, just scoot those sacks under the bench. The one disadvantage of a jeepney is you're going to be getting cozy-cozy with your fellow commuters. Besides that, they're like a mini version of the bus. Just check the placard in the windshield to make sure it's going all the way to your destination and hop on! Sometimes you may have to hang on to the back (but that can also be desirable if the jeepney is extremely packed on the inside), but you can almost always catch a ride with one as it passes by, which is very frequent.

Finally, we arrive at the tricycle (aka "tricy")! This will take you to virtually any location you want within it's boundaries! Like the bus and jeepney, simply call to one and they'll whip they're 150cc motorcycle with welded side car right up to you and be at your service. These can get costly if you're going rather far, but for short trips to the grocery story or to a friends house they are perfect! If you have to go to a rather remote location, you can even have the tricy wait for you until you done, and then ride with him back into town. In my eyes, the tricy's only disadvantage is that they can get pretty pesky sometimes. In my first few days in the Philippines, I thought at first that everyone was being so nice to me, especially the tricy drivers! I would step out my front door and head to the main street and be greeted by 3 or 4 tricy drivers clamoring for my attention, all hoping that I would want a ride with them (most of the times we wouldn't ride, hence they could get pesky since they always ask if you want a ride. I at first thought they were all just waving and make noise as a way to say 'Hi' to us..."awfully friendly of them" I would comment. But I soon learned their sole purpose was to have people ride their tricycles.

According to the above cited modes of transportation effectively employed in the Republic of the Philippines, I submit my inquiry as to the whereabouts of even a semblance of this kind of transpo here in the U.S. of A! They say there is a bus system here. But after waiting for the bus at the bus stop, then stopping every 5 miles at every other bus stop, and then coming back, a quick run into town turns into 1/2 a day wasted on the bus! I, therefore, call upon all within range of my voice to no longer settle for this supposed 'public transportation' which is used here, and realize a day in which we too may see the eventual introduction and reign of the real bus, jeepney, and tricycle here in the streets of our nation!