Manila, Philippines

Queueing Theory: Living a Life of Lines

Queueing Theory: Living a Life of Lines
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Have you ever asked yourself how many times you line up in a day? Honestly, I feel like I’m living a life of lines. Especially here in the Philippines
Regardless if you are a commuter or not, chances are you spend a significant amount of time lining up. That is if you consciously track it. Lines and queues are very much a part of our lives, part of our routine, perhaps like breathing that we do it without paying much attention to it.

Visa On Arrival
In fact, it forms a big part of our lives (and corporations as well) that there is a subject in a college course named Operations Research that deals with Queueing Theory. Service time, demand levels, how many counters to open, what type of line to form, those sort of stuff. (Nerdy? Interesting right! In fairness to OR, they also have Game Theory and Inventory Models. Interesting but very difficult.) Anyway…

When you start your day, do you wait for your turn to take a bath? Fortunately I don’t have to since I wake up very early (not really out of habit but out of necessity). Then once done with the morning rituals and routines, you go to the terminal to line up. For my case, it will be lining up in the shuttle terminal, waiting for the vans to load up or sometimes even to arrive. Lucky for me, I don’t have to line up for a tricycle going to the shuttle terminal. But hey it happens right?

You line up to get to another line. Upon arriving in Cubao, I need to line up to buy MRT tickets, then fall in another line to get inside the station. If it’s a start of a rough day for you, you’ll arrive in Cubao MRT with a very long line in both ticket booth and entrance gates as they implement what guards call ‘Stop Entry’ from time to time when the southbound platform gets very crowded/overloaded. No one can buy tickets or enter the station unless you’re northbound.

Which, as you’ve guessed, happens every day. So the answer is, buy a stored value ticket so you lessen the times you need to line up for single-journey tickets. Then, if it’s ‘stop entry’, I suggest you go northbound instead: board northbound train in Cubao then get off in North Ave station, cross the footbridge underneath and board the southbound trains. This adds around 20 differential minutes in your travel time (Cubao to North and North to Cubao) but at least the chances of getting inside a train is very much higher. And only a third of the physical effort. (Instead of wrestling your way, attempting to get into every train that passes Cubao, but to no avail until the xy +2 train). Guards call people who do these as ’roundtrippers’ (from the word rountrip).

Arriving at Ayala station, yet another series of lines await. For me to board the escalator and to get outside Ayala station. Then two more lines for me, to buy a Fort Bus ticket, and to wait for my turn to board the bus (which almost always takes forever to arrive). Arriving at the office, I need to line up once again for the elevator (I’d rather not comment on its speed).

Then I start my day at the office. Yeah, just getting started. After all those lines.

Another line for lunch at the caf (or microwave in the pantry), or wherever we go for lunch-out say on a Friday. Going home, line up for a bus ticket, line up to get through the very narrow staircase of Ayala station (makes me wonder why one of the busiest MRT stations have such a narrow staircase), line up for MRT tickets, then to enter the station. Arriving in Cubao, line up for a shuttle to take me home. Hay. So many lines. Exagggerated? Nope it’s for real.

How about you? If you drive your own car, you probably line up to get a parking slot (especially if you’re late!!) and even being stuck in traffic jams is a sort of lining up. A college student? Chances are you wait for a long time just to get something photocopied, to check out books from the library, or just to buy your quick lunch. And from time to time, to buy ADMU-DLSU tickets. Hehe..

ATM. Fastfood chains. Restrooms. Movie tickets. Serenitea. Starbucks. Communion. Government transactions. Enrolment. PBB Audition. Courting a girl. Promotion (oops may sumingit tsk tsk)!!!

Yes, lines are all over our lives. Like it or not. All of us fall in line at one point (I doubt) or many in our daily lives. Maybe we’ve gotten used to it and are too tired to bother. Well what can we do? Not that there’s something wrong about it. But have you actually stopped to think about how much time you spend in lining up? Lining up is how we try to put a semblance of order in our lives! We line up as civilised thinking individuals. And we frown upon those who dare cut through our lines. Those who want to get ahead without the sacrifice. People who lack what M Scott Peck calls ‘delay of gratification’. Mga magugulang at tamad! Mga singit amoy singit!

This lining up thing has hopefully given us the patience in our daily grind. But hopefully as well, we haven’t lost our drive to improve things, make it more efficient, to lessen the lines in our lives. Or if there’s really no choice, then the challenge is to make the lining up more productive. In college, we learned to eat and read while falling in line, while waiting. I hope I get to do this as well while lining up in various times of my daily life, now that I’m working.

Talking about lines, I remember what my Philo prof told us 3 years ago: Once a baby is born, s/he already lines up to a certain Death. Morbid? Think again. Well, that’s really the reality behind it. There will be a time when we have to go (and maybe no more lines?) but while we’re here and alive, we need to make our lines more productive. We need to make the line called Life as productive and as meaningful as possible.

Photo: “Visa On Arrival” by Harsha K R

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