Manila Standard Today | August 17, 2014

Wednesday’s crash of a train of the Metro Rail Transit system at the Taft Avenue station in Pasay. City is a painful reminder of the shabbiness of our public transport system and of the ineptitude and callousness of our transport officials.

Nearly 40 people -- train commuters, pedestrians and car passengers plying Edsa -- were injured in the crash. A train supposedly lost power at the Magallanes station, much higher up than the Taft stop. A decision was made to hook the powerless train with yet another that would push it to the final station. But the connection went awry, gravity took over, and the train careened into the ground and onto the busy highway. The pictures would show how bad the accident was, and how it could have been worse.

Transportation and Communications Secretary Jose Emilio Abaya said the government would take care of the hospital expenses incurred by the injured, but was quick to dismiss what happened as “human error.”

Woe to the drivers, indeed. They may or may not have made a less-than-perfect decision and executed it under great pressure. Only an investigation will determine that. Still,what has been public knowledge for many years now is that the MRT system is flawed and inadequate. Controversy hounds the agency which should be focusing on the upkeep and safety enhancement of the MRT.

The following day, many people were hesitant to take the MRT to work or school. Abaya then had this to say: that the MRT was safe and taking it was a matter of personal decision.

On both counts, he is wrong.

First, the trains are not safe. Wednesday’s accident was unfortunate but hardly surprising. Numerous incidents of all sorts of causes -- some of which were reported by the media and some were not, taken merely as part and parcel of Metro Manilans’ commuting challenge -- have taken place. Sometimes the damage was small -- just a kilometric queue, tardiness at work, loss of work-life balance for the day and of a happy disposition. In other times, the effect was physical and psychological trauma.

Despite these incidents, people continue to take the MRT even if they would not if they had their way. So, second -- as in many other aspects of their lives -- commuters don’t have much choice. It frees them from the oppressive Edsa traffic and it is more affordable than the buses that run below.

Abaya and everybody else who take their comfortable cars to get around the city have no idea of these considerations, of course. He and his perceived “idol” in the administration, Interior and Local Governments Secretary Manuel Roxas II who himself served briefly and unremarkably as Transport chief, would never be statesmen enough to admit that politics in choosing maintenance partners and a chronic indecisiveness and lack of will have allowed this primary transport means to deteriorate as it has. And they cannot blame the previous administration for this anymore.

The MRT is not only unreliable and up to par. It has also become a hazard. The saddest thing about this is that had our transport focused, early on, on just delivering good service to the people, the capital region would not be experiencing this mess.

The MRT problem is not a natural hazard. It is the aggregate result of numerous bad personal decisions of our transport officials.