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Seven Decades of Commuting

A personal account on our public transportation culture through the years

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By SOL VANZI

HORSE

It was a rainy Monday in June 1950, the first day of school and the day I officially became a commuter. I was five years old. There were two five-centavo coins in my skirt pocket to pay for my jeepney rides to and from a public school two kilometers from our home. If the weather had been good, I would have walked to school and spent my baon instead on merienda peddled by neighbors at recess.

I was unaccompanied, but my parents did not fear for my safety. They trusted that the jeepney driver would deliver me to the gate of my school. In those days, there were no predators, pedophiles, and kidnappers to worry about.

The jeepneys then were first generation converts from World War II US military vehicles. The body was short, with only three to four passengers on each side of the passenger section. The early models had woven wicker (solihiyang yantok) seat backs and coconut-husk padding for the canvas-covered seats. The roof had a steel frame covered with thick canvas stretched tightly and water-proofed.

Jeepney fare was 10 centavos for adults, five centavos for children. A child sitting on a paying passenger’s lap rode free. Thus seated, our neighborhood gang of 10 school kids paid only 25 centavos total each time we rode together, and shared the merienda and chichirya we bought with our savings.

My grandmother preferred to take calesas for her daily   commute to the Zapote public market. The cochero served as her assistant, helping her carry baskets of ingredients from the different vendors’ stalls and into her carinderia.

As jeepneys passing in front of our house only went from Zapote to Pasay, we took the bus for points beyond. There were no air conditioned buses, but no one seemed to mind—the air was clean and the breeze coming in from the vehicle windows was cool and refreshing.

Saulog and St. Raphael Transit were the two dominant bus companies plying the Cavite route. I took them to reach my high school along Taft Avenue, one ride from home to school. When I went to college in 1960, a Saulog bus ride to their terminal on Florentino Torres, Sta. Cruz, took me close to a JD bus that dropped me off in Diliman. Commuting daily from Zapote to Diliman was a two-ride, no hassle trip. Today it would take a minimum of three hours one way, through pollution and traffic.

Covering my first out-of-town assignment for The Manila Times in 1964 meant motoring to northern Luzon several times a week. I took a Philippine Rabbit bus from its terminal on Rizal Avenue all the way to Vigan, with two stops for meals and bathroom visits. For a change of pace (and scenery) I would sometimes take the train to the northernmost station in Damortis, La Union then transfer to a local bus.

The train was also favored when traveling to Baguio—we did not mind the inconvenience of getting off in La Union to take a bus up Kennon Road to the City of Pines. A single ticket bought at the central Tutuban station covered both the train and the bus rides.

By the late 1960s, I had moved from print to broadcast and was commuting from Malate to ABS-CBN office on Bohol Avenue, Quezon City. My daily go-to-work routine involved two jeepney rides: The first from  Malate to Quiapo and a second from Quiapo to Quezon Avenue. There were enough jeepneys on the road and I did not have to wait long to flag one down.

PAABOT PO! It is customary for all riders to pass one's payment to the driver in a jeepney

PAABOT PO! It is customary for all riders to pass one’s payment to the driver in a jeepney

During rare days when I had to rush to work, I was forced to take a taxi and paid no more than four pesos for
the ride.

Transferring to Malacañang in 1970 before martial law was proclaimed, jeepneys were again my main means of transport—one ride from Malate to Quiapo, another from Quiapo to the very gates of the palace. Martial law did not close the streets around Malacañang, sparing us employees a kilometer-long walk from Mendiola Bridge.

The Marcos years saw mass transport changes: The blue Love Bus that connected cities within Metro Manila, the expansion of the PNR train service to benefit Metro Manila commuters, and the opening of ASEAN’s first city public railway system, the LRT.

With my family getting bigger in the 1980s, my regular trips included Divisoria, Blumentritt, Libertad, and Del Pan to source fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish. Jeepneys took me to all the nooks and crannies of the city at all hours of day and night, but I noticed the streets getting filled with vendors and illegal structures hampering the free flow of vehicular traffic.

After the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, congestion in Metro Manila intensified and traffic became unbearable. Studies show that the country loses billions of pesos due to traffic daily.

Today a three-kilometer taxi ride to our  Intramuros office takes more than 30 minutes and costs P150-P200—a Grab car charges even more. My son needs three hours to reach his call center building, sometimes even longer. My daughter had to quit a good job because her commute took four hours each way. Many city employees now live in dorms six days a week and see their families only on weekends.

The government is trying several approaches to make life more bearable: A subway system, re-opening the old Luzon train network, extending the MRT-LRT service to Cavite and Bulacan, upgrading the Pasig River ferry system, and phasing out decrepit jeepneys and tricycles and converting to electric vehicles. The situation is getting worse every single day, and the public has no choice but wait and hope.

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