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 Manila's public transport system shows the strain as prices soar

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PostSubject: Manila's public transport system shows the strain as prices soar   Mon Aug 11, 2008 8:36 pm

MANILA (AFP) - - Belching thick clouds of black exhaust smoke, a dilapidated "jeepney" minibus brims with commuters jammed together like sardines during rush hour in Manila.
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Crawling on to the next stop, and another long line of demoralised workers, it is but one vehicle that comprises the congested morning traffic here.

Commuting in Manila, a sprawling city of more than 12 million people, has never been easy.

Most of the city's public transport vehicles are second-hand, poorly maintained and in many other countries, would never be allowed on the road let alone to carry passengers.

The Philippine National Railway is old and dirty and during peak hours it is not uncommon to see people sitting on the roof or hanging off the sides of railway carriages and diesel engines.

The only modern part of the city's public transport system is the overhead Light Rail Transit (LRT) and the Metro Rail Transit (MRT). But they have reached maximum capacity and trains are said to be dangerously overcrowded during the morning and evening rush hour.

And on the back of high fuel prices the situation for commuters is about to get even more unpleasant. Those "lucky" enough to own a car are leaving them at home and instead joining the long lines of human traffic squeezing into the back of jeepneys, buses or trains.

The minimum jeepney fare, the backbone of the Philippine public transport system, has gone up twice since May from 7.50 pesos to 8.50 pesos (about US 16 cents to 18 cents) and volatile world oil prices could see prices rise again.

Bus and taxi fares have also increased to keep pace with high fuel costs. Diesel, which is used in most public transport vehicles, has risen by 42 percent since the start of the year and 64 percent since June last year.

In May the government increased the minimum daily wage in Manila by 33 US cents to around eight dollars.

But in a country where 40 percent of the population live on less than a dollar a day and with inflation hitting double digits, transport costs have not only impacted heavily on the lives of poor Filipinos. They have also dented the pockets of the middle class.

Tet Defensor, a public relations consultant, is from a two-car extended family in suburban Quezon City but with the rising cost of petrol, she no longer drives to work.

"We used to have two drivers now we only have one because we only use one car," she told AFP.

"My parents are too old to commute so they use the car," she added.

Roger Guzman a college professor now leaves his car at home and joins the growing army of people using public transport.

"We were a three-car family," he tells AFP. "Now we only use one."

"Each car once cost around 2,500 pesos a month in gas," he said.

"Now that's how much it costs a week. So, one car has gone from 2,500 to 10,000 pesos a month. Multiply that by three and you get 30,000 pesos ... we just can't afford it anymore."

Popular Manila radio celebrity Joseph Javier better known as "Mojo Jojo" says that high petrol prices have also affected his lifestyle.

"My life is now being limited to a five kilometre (three miles) radius if I drive," he told AFP, adding that he has bought a motorcycle because "it's cheaper, just 100 pesos and you have a full tank."

With tickets costing 10 to 15 pesos the LRT and MRT are fast becoming the preferred mode of public transport for many commuters who don't mind the long lines and cramped conditions.

Quick and reliable, the overhead light rail can carry passengers across Manila without the congestion and constant changes of buses and jeepneys on the road.

According to the MRT, traffic on its line has increased almost 25 percent from 9.84 million passengers in April 2007 to 12.55 million in April this year.

The story is similar for the two LRT lines that cut across the city.

The surge in passenger numbers, however, is causing concern among light rail officials.

"Strain on the MRT line is approaching a critical level," said the MRT's general manager Roberto Lastimoso.

"We're already going over the maximum capacity," he admitted, but declined to give figures.
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