Terminal Destinations: The Traffic of Commuting

Being stuck at the terminal is a far harsher fate confronting poverty-stricken commuters than what one might readily assume. The commuter’s affair with traffic structures both the spatial and temporal dimensions of his/her movement.

BY FRANK LLOYD TIONGSON
Philippine Collegian
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 46, December 23, 2007 – January 5, 2008

While disgust punctuates bouts of nostalgia haunted by defunct television shows and hideous fashion trends, better days have always been noted to have cheaper jeepney fares. Today, getting from point A to point B is not as cheap anymore. Commuting has indeed trespassed on the realm of memory, testifying to its unconscious but powerful control over one’s experiences.

As traffic is bound by the slightest hand gestures and the negligible shift from red to green,
so is the structure of daily routine influenced by the altering destinations of the transportation sector. Disconcerting as it may seem, the public has always been stuck in traffic, which seems
to flow randomly, but actually directed systematically by a few bumbling personnel in blue or yellow uniform and the imposing color-coded signifiers of the state.

Fareview

Seven pesos and fifty cents can buy a cheap soda, three and a half cigarettes, or a few pieces of gum. It definitely cannot pay the rent. Seven pesos and fifty cents are not worth half a sandwich but it is the most decisive amount for any commuter.

They say getting there is half the journey, but one must first scavenge for some loose change before any “getting there” happens – somewhere where one can peddle intellect, labor, and humanity to earn enough to afford some peace of mind.

Seven pesos and fifty cents is the current minimum fare for a jeepney ride, the most common mode of transportation for commuters, that is, almost everyone. The recent dramatic increase
in oil prices has once again prompted jeepney operators and drivers to fix the fare back to P7.50 after several months of a rolled-back fare of P7. The turmoil ensuing from the economic slump of the United States due to skyrocketing oil prices highlights the continued dependence of the Philippine economy to the U.S. market, which is highly dependent on oil.

Tomorrow, as it seems, can only prove to be worse than today as oil prices continue to escalate unabated due to a deregulation policy crafted to satisfy the whims of gluttonous oil companies. Since the passage of the oil deregulation law in 1996, which disabled the government’s control
of oil prices, local gas prices have increased by 535 percent according to IBON, an independent
research organization.

Ask any overstaying UP student how much the Ikot fare was during his/her freshman year.
While people are stuck in eternally clogged avenues, oil prices speed towards greater heights, beating every red light it comes across. The commuter is gradually hindered to join the traffic as he/she continues to stagnate both economically and, literally, motion-wise.

Panic for traffic

Being stuck at the terminal is a far harsher fate confronting poverty-stricken commuters than
what one might readily assume. The commuter’s affair with traffic structures both the spatial and temporal dimensions of his/her movement.

Urban geography, for instance, is largely determined by commuter routes. The most familiar jeepney routes, to cite, include various SM malls instead of the names of actual destinations. Traffic efficiency, as seen, is ordained to ensure the unhindered flow of capital from
production to consumption.

Meanwhile, metropolitan railway systems, as supposed substitutes to grueling jeepney rides, actually connect commercial districts such as malls with each other instead of consolidating
residential areas. These railway systems underline the demand for efficiency in the flow
of people from the workplace to the designated sites of fanatical consumption.

Commuters have then learned to structure their routine according to the tempo of traffic.
Time is indeed relative, that is, to the amount of time a jeepney driver finally feels satisfied with
the number of his passengers, the designated hours to clock in and clock out, as well as a
host of other factors. Rallies and demonstrations, incidentally, which annoyingly obstruct traffic, aim exactly to hamper the set tempo and rhythm of capital. Knee-jerk frustration, in this instance, may thus be seen as a telltale sign of subjugation to the cited rhythm.

The commuter’s movement, therefore, is largely determined by these spatial and temporal layouts, which are designed for the efficient movement of capital instead of people. However, the heavy traffic that ensues casts doubt on this said design.

Its actual inefficiency reflects the confounded logic of capitalism. While its design painstakingly
configures efficient routes, the drive for maximum capital accumulation brings forth a torrent of surplus vehicles – congesting its own traffic and rendering its subjects highly dependent on oil.

Violent destinations

Commuters are thus frequently headed towards oppressive destinations. After all, the jeepney itself, a cultural marker dubbed by the tourism department as a testament of Filipino ingenuity, emerged from a violent past. An amalgamation of the words “jeep”and “knee,” referring to the knee-to-knee seating arrangement, the jeepney is an altered version of the American “willy,”
a vehicle used to transport American GIs during the Second World War.

Currently, the jeepney presents itself as the most popular mode of transportation towards new terrains of combat. Students are brought to schools to be molded as subdued agents of the status quo through symbolically violent institutional instruction.

Workers are brought to the offices and factories to be drained of their excess labor in an inherently violent material relationship. An arduous jeepney ride, moreover, reveal an apparent dehumanization of people even while in transit, before they arrive to the actual sites of their
subjugation. Shoulders brushing against each other, arms rubbing against bare arms, long flowing hair caressing an unfamiliar face, would have been an erotic experience if not for the listless disposition of commuters who merely want to arrive at their destinations. The jeepney is
a sardine can on wheels, carrying processed, anonymous meat to various locations where they will be consumed.

In order to sustain these violent movements, an actual war is currently waged. The U.S. continues to mobilize its military to gain control of Iraqi oil fields, the second richest in the world next to Saudi Arabia’s. Under the premise of a “war on terror,” the brazen employment of military violence to control the region aims to satiate the crazed demand for new oil resources. And from this brutal engagement, the oil continues to flow and fuel the daily movement of commuters.

Discontent with the lack of control over his/her own destination, a tempting prospect crosses the mind of any commuter – grabbing the steering wheel and driving anywhere except where he/she is designated to be. Philippine Collegian/posted by Bulatlat

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