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Asia

Manila getting women to steer the chaos

A new initiative is getting women behind the wheels of buses in the Philippine capital. The goal is to make the streets safer.

Streets are extremely congested during rush hour in Manila

Streets are extremely congested during rush hour in Manila

Ask residents from almost any metropolis around the world which city has the worst traffic, and they are bound to answer theirs. The Philippine capital, Manila, is no exception. Traffic can slow to a crawl during rush hours and it seems at times that motorists there operate on a sort of jungle law. But some say if there were more women in the driver’s seat, of a bus in particular, the streets might be a bit safer.

As bus driver Ronnie Asahan stares out through the windshield at the line of cars ahead of him, he says that the traffic is wearing on his nerves.

The 33-year-old is headed back into Makati City, one of Manila’s busiest districts during rush hour. He says that after a decade behind the wheel, the traffic is "really bad in Manila. I’m so tired of the traffic."

Bus drivers, traditionally men, have to drive aggressively in the capital

Bus drivers, traditionally men, have to drive aggressively in the capital

Curb-side service

In Manila, privatized buses compete with taxies, motorbikes with sidecars and passenger trucks for customers as well as space on the roads. Many buses weave between lanes and make random stops, so that conductors can step off and call out for potential riders.

Some Filipinos complain that these drivers, mostly male, make the city’s streets even more congested and dangerous. Some city officials say they have a solution for this problem.

Francis Tolentino is chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the MMDA, which is training women to drive buses. He told Deutsche Welle, "Most of the accidents here in Metro Manila are caused by male drivers. And studies show that based on attitude and the hormonic composition of female drivers, they are less prone to be aggressive and reckless drivers."

Buses cause a lot of the chaos on the streets, as they have to constantly stop and go

Buses cause a lot of the chaos on the streets, as they have to constantly stop and go

Cool, cooler, coolant

The MMDA hopes that bus companies will hire the lady drivers once they complete their training this month. One trainee, 50-year-old Olivia Pabriga, say’s she knows her stuff: "how to change the oil, tires, and everything, checking the tire pressure, you have to know all that before you start the car. And you have the check the water and the oil and that other stuff...the air brake fluid."

Pabriga agrees that women drivers generally keep their cool better then men. But some critics say that while lady bus drivers might prove to be less aggressive, the MMDA’s plan ignores the real problem, which is a lack of traffic law enforcement.

Bishop Broderick Pabillo of the Catholic Archdiocese of Manila said bus drivers here break the law because they are paid on a quota system. "In many other big cities, public transportation is subsidized by the state because it is a service to the people. Whether they get more passengers or not, they get their salary. But here, the drivers, the conductors, they get paid depending on how many passengers they get. So naturally they will run after more people."

Olivia Pabriga is one of the first women in the government program to train female drivers

Olivia Pabriga is one of the first women in the government program to train female drivers

A man's world?

Some still argue women have trouble handling a bus, but bus driver Ronnie Asahan says this is not true, though he adds that women’s alleged resistance to risky driving will actually work against them.

He said risky driving pays off, "because if you are not risky here in Manila, then you are too slow. The passengers get angry with you. The passengers throw coins at your head, saying 'you are so very slow, I am late!'"

Bus driver in training Olivia Pabriga says whenever women try something new, they always get the same negative reaction from men. But she’s not letting that get to her. "They always say women cannot do whatever, only men can do it, because we never try."

She warned, "when we start, then they'll know."

Author: Jason Strother (Manila)
Editor: Sarah Berning

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