Riding the Bus in Metro Manila

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Riding the bus is something many commuters do in Metro Manila. It is one of the many public means of transport in our bustling metropolis. It is part of the vital transportation system that supports the movement of people and the economy in Metro Manila. But somehow, there are a lot of issues concerning buses these days. Reports of fare increases, robbery, and accidents involving buses, are just some of the security and safety concerns a bus commuter is faced with every single day.

Why take the bus?

Traveling by bus is slower compared to taking the MRT, FX, or taxi. But still, many prefer taking it because it is more convenient compared to taking the MRT. You may compare taking the MRT during rush hours as worse than being stuffed in a can. Also, in trains, you encounter irritated people pushing their way in and out and you get irritated yourself. Thus, your morning and the rest of the day are ruined.

Compare this to taking a bus where there is a higher probability that you will be seated. Also, buses travel a longer route compared to the MRT, FX, and jeepney, which is an advantage for those who are traveling far. Riding the bus is likewise cheaper. You may prefer it if you are commuting a long way. A bus ride can be equivalent to two or three rides by other vehicles but more economical.

Plus, you can rest while riding a bus. Admit it; you prefer the bus because you can catch up on sleep you missed because of waking up early. Long commuting hours can also mean a long period of rest, provided that you are seated comfortably. You can even watch a movie for free in most air-conditioned buses.

Buses are also the primary means of transportation for most Filipinos going to provinces. Other countries have extensive rail networks where people primarily take the train if going to other regions. But here in the Philippines, buses traverse every province, every region to transport people. Buses can even cross bodies of water via Roll-on-Roll-Off ferries. The last tally of the National Statistical Coordination Board in 2009 accounted over 33,000 buses operating nationwide. According to the Metro Manila Development Authority, there are 7,000 buses present at a given time in Metro Manila alone.

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Daily Security Issues Commuters Face

The safety and security concerns riding a bus poses fall under three categories. One is crime, the second is accidents, and the third is terrorist acts.

The first one deals with the threat presented by hold-uppers, snatchers, thieves, and pickpockets. They present an immediate threat to our lives and our belongings when riding a bus. Perverts also present a threat to women riding the bus. In general, such security concerns can be addressed with continuous vigilance and efforts of law enforcement agencies.

The second one deals with the bus itself. We are familiar with overspeeding buses plying the roads in between rush hours. This has caused numerous accidents that killed and injured motorists and commuters. Particularly in EDSA, such incidents are caused by the competition among buses who fight over passengers or plain reckless driving of some bus drivers. Some cases are the result of poor maintenance of buses. In this case, the safety of commuters lies in the hands of bus drivers, operators, and law enforcers. This is present in buses not just in Metro Manila. It is a miracle to survive a high-speed collision or falling over a cliff on a bus.

For the third category, commuters, or civilians in general, can also be the target of violence motivated by extremist beliefs, political agenda, or extortion. It should be remembered that on January 25, 2011, a bomb exploded in a bus traversing EDSA, killing 4 people and injuring 14 others. Such concern still lies in the vigilance of every individual and the actions of law enforcers.

Sexual Harassment in Public Transport

Public vehicles in Metro Manila are packed with people during rush hours. A commuting experience especially during rush hours may include close body contact and unwanted touches. This is very uncomfortable for women.

Daysheelyn Brillo, 21, a law student prefers to take the bus almost daily because of convenience. She recalls an experience when she noticed a passenger seated next to her trying to nudge the side of her chest. She complains ,“Ayoko nun! Nakakaharass kaya!” (“I hate such situations! I feel harassed!”)

Camille Merza, 23, a manager of a dental clinic and spa, says, “I am more aware when riding a bus especially every morning.” She points out that once, there was this passenger who was, “pasimpleng mangchansing. Kunwaring tulog tapos mantatabig ng dibdib.” (“seated beside me pretending to be asleep but was actually trying to touch my breasts.”)

Also, some stories from female friends reveal more of such incidents of harassment. This includes a passenger stroking his genitals beneath his pants while a female friend was being maliciously looked on. And one experience I personally observed involved obscene remarks. A young woman, having just entered the fully packed bus, was being asked by a male passenger briskly to adjust and take her seat. The man used obscenities enthusiastically while asking. I did not fail to notice that the girl was very annoyed because of it.

Women who ride buses and other public modes of transportation face such circumstances every day. Public transport proves to be a place where body contact is inevitable and it is sad that some people who take advantage of this and invade a woman’s personal space.

Riding the Bus, More Fun in the Philippines?

Filipino-Iranian Farhad Shamsi,24, grew up in Iran and tells his experiences and observations while commuting by bus. He happily recounts that he was amazed during the first time he saw a vendor going up the bus to sell food to the passengers. He used to take the bus daily when he was working on his former job as an IT helpdesk assistant.

Farhad points out quite a number of differences in riding the bus in Iran and in Metro Manila. In Iran, being a predominantly Muslim country, a bus has separate sections for men and women. Men are seated at the front half while women at the back. Also, most of public utilities including public transport are operated by government. Buses in the Philippines are operated privately.

Other countries have a more organized and institutionalized bus transport system. Farhad says that buses in Iran have strict schedules for arrival and departure. He adds, “Here, there are like 5 to 6 buses of the same route competing for passengers at a bus stop. There, there are line numbers. Different line numbers tell a different route. In a bus stop, there is only one bus of a certain line at a particular time. Drivers have penalties if they stay too long”. When asked how the bus system there operates, he says, “people just learn and remember when the bus arrives and departs. It has been there since I don’t know when and it hasn’t changed for a long time.”

In getting on and off the bus, Farhad recalls back in Iran, “That driver won’t open the door except only at the bus stop. There are specific places to drop and pick passengers. Here in Manila, it’s like almost anywhere.”

Farhad has been a victim of slashpockets. One day, while taking a bus to work, he noticed his pants slashed and his wallet gone. Since then, he made it a point to be seated at the front as much as possible whenever riding a bus. His 20-year-old sister, Farah, a dentistry student recalls her first bus ride in Manila. It was a very long ride as they were stuck in traffic she says. She tells the story of her friend who was robbed on a bus. Because of such incidents along with her brother’s, she rarely takes the bus but if she does, she travels with her brother or guy friends. For both of them, riding the bus back in Iran is safer than riding one here in Metro Manila.

We live through it every day

Threats to the safety of bus commuters are always present. We always face danger every time we ride a bus. Extra safety measures will make our bus rides more convenient, relaxing, enjoyable, and less stressful; the very reasons why we choose to catch the bus. Though buses may be packed with fellow commuters, stuck in heavy traffic, or move as fast as a roller coaster, the important thing is that they are there to get us to where we want to go.

Extra precautions and awareness will never hurt because it ensures that we arrive in our destination safe and sound.

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First published as a featured story of the Road Safety Edition of Volume 2 Issue No.2 of SecurityMatters Magazine – Print Edition