Seeing the Inquirer.net article on the projection that gas prices in this here country could go as high as 65 PhP (roughly $1.47, at an exchange rate of 1:44) a liter reminded me of my taxi ride to Greenbelt last Saturday. The manong driver was complaining how they barely make a profit with the current prices, since you’re essentially using up for refueling whatever money you made with your last passenger.
What struck me about the manong driver’s lament is that sense of frustration bordering on hopelessness; he in fact told me that, after dropping me off at GB, he’d be turning in for the day and probably won’t go out the coming Monday since he was coding (and would therefore have to go out after 7 in the evening). In sympathy to the manong, I added an extra 50 PhP to the amount on the meter.
I’ve always said that one of the best sociopolitical gauges in this country are the taxi drivers. They meet all sorts of people everyday, themselves are all sorts of people – you get the barely educated with people with degrees and lots of experience – and are well-informed because their radios are tuned in most of the time to AM stations. And few people know gossip surrounding really important issues than taxi drivers. One should always listen closely to what the manong driver is saying, because there is the very real chance that something important is being told to you then and there.
Admittedly, its the first time I’ve heard a taxi driver talk long about how the surge in fuel prices has affected that business, and in such intricate detail, so I’m curious to know what the sentiment is among the rest. Industries and businesses that rely heavily and are (therefore) affected directly by the fluctuations in the price of fuel are the ones, in my opinion, who are the best gauges for how bad the situation is, or can be.
A taxi driver refusing to sortie because its all a hopeless exercise anyway, given the current price of oil, should give people pause. One could argue for more engine efficiency – the manong was driving a rather old model Toyota, after all – or to shift fuels (like converting to LPG), but people should be able to run a business in that chosen field without “extended effort”. If your most basic model for a taxi franchise involves a car and the most-readily available and default fuel, and its suffering mightily under the current condition, then shouldn’t that be a reason to worry?
Of course, we can’t pin all of the blame either on an increasingly-inutile government (at least with regard to the rising cost of fuel), or the seemingly-rapacious oil companies. One could argue to the manong driver that, instead of “patrolling”, he could stay in queue at taxi lines in our malls; customers are a-plenty most times of the day there, and they don’t have to keep the engine running all the time.
Yet that line of thinking could lead to a simplification of the issue. In the world of Massive Multiplayer Online Gaming (MMOG), particularly those who play the game Rising Force Online here in the Philippines, a common adage is “learn to adapt.” Given all the problems with that Korean-designed game, most of the debates in our official Forums centers around the “whiners” and the “adapters.” Most of the time, the “Adapters” would win any debate because, over and above the more solid rationale usually presented by these players, no one likes to be called a wuss, as there is that perception that anyone who can’t adapt is truly “weak.” Think of it as Darwinism in action: those that can cope with the demands of the environment, will survive if not thrive, while those who can’t will go the way of the dinosaurs.
Yet one time, there was this player who lamented about the seemingly endless adapting. Would we, he complained, do nothing but adapt? Shouldn’t the powers-that-be of the game make it so we can play without having to think about what we should do to compensate for its shortcomings?
The same could be said about the rising cost of fuel: must we always find ourselves adapting to the situation? The innovation and search for alternatives is welcome, but these are added stresses to an already stressful situation. In the case of taxi drivers, the job already has built in stresses of competition for customers, problems with navigating the fastest and most efficient route to the destination in a metropolis that defies planning and zoning, transport arteries as clogged as a person about to suffer an aneurysm, and traffic officers that seem to make traffic mean its opposite definition.
What can be done about this? I don’t know, frankly, outside of doing what the Brazilians did. They learned their lessons well during the oil crises of the 1970s, and now that country is reaping the benefits of a program that was instituted in response to one problem, but proved to be as effectively responsive to another. We have our programs for alternative sources of fuel, but between a half-hearted support from Government (despite official pronouncements), the glacial pace of movement for any initiative that gets official approval, and the interest of the major oil firms to keep oil profits high, we won’t see anything similar to Brazil even if we did have a plan as good as theirs for being oil-independent. And now that new debate on Food-or-(Bio)Fuel is adding to the problems.
(Which, in my opinion, is an absurd notion here in the Philippines as Jatropha is the flagship biofuel being advocated by the Government. What I learned about Jatropha tells me there is no conflict between it and food-producing plants because the land ideal for the growing of food crops is not ideal for growing Jatropha. In fact, Jatropha prefers soil that has little moisture, whereas rice plants are submerged. And the amount of energy needed to turn prime agricultural land into a desert takes more energy and capital than if that land were converted to a subdivision.)
Hopefully, something can be done about the rising cost of fuel. The consequences of our inability to do so are too scary to even contemplate.