I have been a commuter my entire life. Back in the Philippines, jeepneys, tricycles, pedicabs, vans, buses and trains took me places day in and day out.
During rush hour, I would elbow my way through a crowd of people, all of us sweating in the sweltering heat. I would queue up for what seemed like an eternity to get my train ticket.
I would keep an eye on my bag and pockets and made sure I had some pepper spray ready for all sorts of threats. And I thought that was it — that was public transport: Crowded, exhausting, dangerous.
Then, I came to Dubai. And all I could say was — wow. Here, it’s safe, convenient, high-tech and continuously evolving to serve commuters better.
No wonder hundreds and thousands of people take the public transport every single day.
On September 9, Dubai saw its highest daily ridership since the start of the pandemic: More than 1.3 million passengers were recorded.
When I rode the bus from Business Bay to Mina Road on Sunday, I noticed the USB charger ports on board. I can just imagine how many times those ports have become life-savers, especially for people like me whose mobile battery is perpetually empty.
And that’s when it hit me: The bus experience here is way too different from the one I grew up enduring. Here, buses have stop buttons for every row of seats, so with just one press, passengers can tell the driver they will be hopping off at the next stop.
Back home, these buttons never work. So, to get off the bus, sometimes, we would have to stand up, walk closer to the driver, and actually tell him he has to stop.
I remember doing the same thing for a few bus rides when I was a new girl in Dubai. I never trusted stop buttons, until I realised I was the only person who wasn’t using them.
Then, for those who are carrying a lot of things, the RTA buses’ on-board luggage space comes to the rescue.
On Sunday, for example, I was holding two grocery bags in my left hand, plus a gym bag on my right shoulder. When I got on the bus, I just dropped all my stuff within the rails and enjoyed the ride.
Had I been in the Philippines, my only option would be to pay for another seat so I don’t end up balancing a tower of bags on my lap.
Both Dubai and Philippine buses have screens. But here, they are used to display a route map so that passengers would know where they are.
In Manila, these screens are actually TVs that would feature old movies and soap operas to get riders’ minds off the fact that the bus hadn’t moved an inch in an hour.
Filipinos deserve better. Dubai has shown that taking a bus doesn’t have to be ‘survival of the fittest’.
In fact, it can be a pleasant ride. Perhaps dismantling a broken public transport system and creating a new one is not as easy as we think.
But when will Manila start doing something about it?