TRANSPORTATION

How do we solve our transportation problem? This group of commuters might have answers

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Karlo Abadines, Ira Cruz, and Jedd Ugay are three members of the core group of How's Your Biyahe, Bes?, an online community of commuters who are determined to help provide solutions to our transportation problem. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Braving the Manila traffic to get to this interview, Jedd Ugay, Karlo Abadines, and Ira Cruz arrive using various modes of transportation — from carpooling to commuting via bus to rolling in on an electric kick scooter. For the people behind the Facebook group How’s Your Byahe, Bes?, their commitment to “Move People, Not Cars” is an advocacy that is lived out both online and on the road.

What started as a small group of friends working in the Department of Transportation has now expanded to a 2,600-strong online community of commuters who are fed up with the state of transportation in the Philippines, and are determined to take matters into their own hands. After all, President Rodrigo Duterte himself said last month that traffic remains to be his one unfulfilled campaign promise.

“Gusto sana namin kasi ng mas crowdsourcing and members-initiative ang approach,” says Ugay on the decision to go with an FB group. Started in April 2018, the community tackles everything from bus lane policies and new highways to viral road accidents. Members are also encouraged to take photos of transpo-related concerns in their areas, and to ask the community for help in generating solutions. “It’s a good way to connect with similarly disgruntled people and to create more reach,” adds Ugay.

For the members of HYBB, the issue of transportation is essentially a social justice issue. “This is a violence felt by people on a daily basis, but you become so numb that you feel you’re powerless to do something,” says Abadines. The group talks about the loss of dignity, where transpo woes are not considered newsworthy and instead seen as the norm. “Typhoon Yolanda killed 7,000 people, ‘yung drug war killed more than 22,000, pero ‘yung road safety, in terms of vehicular accidents, kills around 11,000 people per year. And we experience it everyday. Bakit walang outcry for that?” says Ugay.

HYBB wants to change the public perception of transportation being virtually unsolvable, and instead transform exasperation into avenues of hope. “The more you think about it, a lot of solutions … are not even all that expensive,” says Cruz. “Sometimes, it’s just a proper sidewalk … It’s not very capital intensive, and it’s not necessarily high tech.”

“The more you think about it, a lot of solutions … are not even all that expensive,” says Ira Cruz of How's Your Byahe, Bes? “Sometimes, it’s just a proper sidewalk … It’s not very capital intensive, and it’s not necessarily high tech.” Photo by JL JAVIER

Despite the government’s various efforts to solve this mess, the group thinks that radical solutions have to be demanded by commuters. “We’re more car-centric pa rin,” says Ugay. “The solutions we think about are more expressways, road widening.” The group says that while rail projects are good, these cannot be our government’s biggest solution because these take too much construction time and investments, and they can only service as far as their corridors allow. “If you want to cover the whole of Metro Manila, you have to make a fundamental change in terms of public transport.”

As an alternative, HYBB proposes “Moving People, Not Cars.” Abadines says that this has to do with road justice, given that private vehicles that carry only one or two people dominate a huge chunk of our roads, versus buses that carry 60 people each that then fight over two lanes. “Maybe 40 percent of EDSA should be buses, 20 percent private cars, tapos 40 percent pedestrians. That’s radicalizing the idea of five lanes; you split them in a different ratio altogether,” he explains.

However, this culture is a tough challenge for the group, in a developing country where owning a car is seen as a measure of success. Online, there are several videos of car owners honking at bikers, telling them to stick to the sidelines or getting angry at bus drivers for delaying their trips.

“Currently, ‘yung mga pedestrians think na medyo second-class citizens sila to car users,” says Ugay of how pedestrians are willing to give way to cars’ use of our roads. “Pero they don’t know that they should have rights, na kami as pedestrians should have the priority. [Instead, we should demand] ‘Why are you removing my sidewalk? That’s for me. You should prioritize me… because my mode of transport is more inclusive.”

The group argues that cars and bikes often carry one person each, and these are equal taxpayers. Why then should cars have any right to enforce that they own the road, while bikes and pedestrians are made to fight each other in the margins?

As opposed to other transport-oriented groups, HYBB says they do their best not to limit themselves to trainings and talking about solutions. Instead, they believe in a more grassroots approach, and in building a movement that demands government to enact better policies. “We did try to organize how we can make it happen,” says Cruz. “We have a group that’s in charge of developing the policy, and we have a group that’s assigned to engage the public — How do you agitate, trigger the public to really move their asses?”

For the members of HYBB, the issue of transportation is essentially a social justice issue. “This is a violence felt by people on a daily basis, but you become so numb that you feel you’re powerless to do something,” says Karlo Abadines. Photo by JL JAVIER

Abadines also adds that this grassroots movement has to grow beyond Manila. “You need to fix the problem of Metro Manila because that’s what you’re seeing in Metro Cebu, in CDO, in Davao City … The fundamental principles you have about transportation are [wrong]. So you see these cities all around our country, [and their] trajectory is to become a city not being planned properly.”

HYBB is currently crafting a policy proposal for our legislators, and hopes that they consider putting these into law after the May elections. HYBB’s proposed policies fall under four themes:

1. Road Safety. We need to design our cities to be in favor of pedestrians versus cars. Cars cause road accidents because they run at higher speeds and are heavier, in contrast to bikes which are slower, lighter, and not fatal.

2. Pollution Reduction and Environmental Protection. Transportation accounts for 23 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. If we reduce pollution generated by the transportation sector, we’ll make a very big impact in terms of climate change, and making our country more sustainable for future generations.

3. Inclusive Mobility and Land Use. Is your city or municipality accessible to everyone regardless of who they are: PWD, poor, elderly, pregnant mothers? When we prioritize the accessibility of these people, everything else will improve and mobility will be much easier for the rest.

Land use deals with encouraging people to walk more and drive less. Ugay shares that a lot of our trips are within 1 to 2 km but people still prefer taking a taxi, car, or Grab for a distance that’s very much walkable. “Dapat tinitingnan ‘yan ng car users, na if we prioritize pedestrians, it’s not reducing their mobility; you will improve everyone’s mobility kasi less traffic. So [only] those people who really need to use their cars [do — like PWDs.]” Cruz shares, “Megamall is probably 500 m end to end. People walk that back and forth, up and down. So that’s easily 4 km yet people do it. But will they walk 1 km [outside]?”

Land use also tackles housing — more people flock to business districts to work but with the skyrocketing rent in these areas, people are forced to live farther and travel more. Gated subdivisions also reduce mobility, as these areas block public transpo and are built to favor cars.

4. Strong Institutions. You need good governance and good institutions to make the first three happen. This includes mechanisms for consultations, and a strong framework for citizens to be able to participate.

For the group, transportation in the Philippines is solvable. But it needs two things: a shift of focus onto moving people, and a strong grassroots movement of empowered commuters.

“Typhoon Yolanda killed 7,000 people, ‘yung drug war killed more than 22,000, pero ‘yung road safety, in terms of vehicular accidents, kills around 11,000 people per year. And we experience it everyday. Bakit walang outcry for that?” says Jedd Ugay. Photo by JL JAVIER

Cruz offers a silver lining to fellow disgruntled commuters like him. “What we’re seeing [from other countries] is that we’re not too far behind. A lot of countries are also turning the corner so it’s not too late. But people really need to give a damn.”

To do this, Abadines asks the public to start conversations in their own areas, starting with their families, their barangays, and fellow advocates in the HYBB FB group. “What’s disempowering is looking at national. But I think we should start local. I think [that’s] when people start to feel empowered about claiming their city.”

“I want more people to understand we have rights — as pedestrians, as bike users, as commuters,” says Ugay. “Parang kasi [helpless] na ‘yung feeling natin. But we have rights and we should be able to demand for that. That’s how everything starts — your discussions will change, how you approach your daily commute will change. If you start distributing that aura with everyone else, then it becomes a bigger movement.”

You can join the How’s Your Byahe, Bes? community here.