The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) will have a new Secretary and staff when newly-proclaimed President Rodrigo Duterte assumes office on June 30.
One of the outgoing DOTC executives is Assistant Secretary for Planning and Finance Shierylysse Reyes Bonifacio, who granted an exit interview to Popular Mechanics for its article, “Can a World War II Relic Solve the World’s Worst Traffic Problem?”
Hired two years ago to straighten out Metro Manila’s traffic mess before the end of President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s term, Bonifacio admitted that there wasn’t enough time for her to fully implement her four-part plan.
Bonifacio told Popular Mechanics that she’d only managed the first step: nationwide regulations on Uber and its local archrival Grab, to reform the country’s taxis.
She said that the next step was to use data from the World Bank, which receives a snapshot every six minutes from Grab’s 300,000 drivers across Asia, to identify the most promising routes for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which was launched in Brazil 40 years ago and is basically a train on wheels.
Hailed as the starter kit for modern mass transit, a first line was built in Jakarta in nine months in 2004. Today, Jakarta has the world’s longest network, carrying 370,000 passengers daily over 129 miles (206.4 kilometers) of dedicated lanes along a dozen lines, the Popular Mechanics article reported.
In Manila, the DOTC studied 17 suitable corridors, but President Aquino approved only one.
Step 3 in Bonifacio’s plan was to reinvent the jeepney to have windows, seatbelts, air conditioning and doors. Maybe even electric engines or at least low-sulfur, less polluting diesel engines.
Bonifacio told Popular Mechanics that her team hopes the next administration will pass on the idea to interested manufacturers such as Kia, Tata and Isuzu in the hope that they will design and build one.
The last step in Bonifacio’s plan is to replace the existing transportation system wholesale, a plan which she admits borders on fantasy.
Jeepneys operate on a franchise system with owners applying to the DOTC for the right to run on a particular route. The problem, Bonifacio told Popular Mechanics, is that the government never bothered to create a coherent network and just handed out franchises to anyone who asked.
Result: a tangle of redundant routes, plied not only by tens of thousands of jeepneys, but also more than a thousand bus companies and an untold number of illegal operators. World Bank data indicates that decades of adding more routes without thinking has resulted in vehicles driving six times as many miles as bus systems in Beijing or New York.
Bonifacio proposes to slash the number of routes by 90 percent and reduce jeepneys’ annual greenhouse gas emissions by 23 percent—equivalent to taking 105,000 cars off Manila’s roads.
It would take only P20 billion to buy out every jeepney owner. For less than half the cost of starting up BRT, the government could start over, this time drawing the network map first, then assigning new routes to express buses and finally to jeepneys.
How the government would foreclose on 90 percent of jeepney drivers – a poor but vocal voting bloc – is unclear, but that’s a problem for the next administration, Bonifacio told Popular Mechanics.