Ben Evardone was a young aide to Transportation and Communications Secretary Oscar Orbos when Oca moved to modernize the bus industry in 1988-89. The modernization was simple and straightforward. Bus operators, in the metropolitan areas and the provinces, were given incentives to “refleet”—which meant junking the old buses for new, fuel efficient ones.
There was also nothing lavish or fancy about the incentives in the program, just the opportunity to acquire new buses under softer and longer repayment terms. Ben still recalls the giddiness and enthusiasm that attended the partnership and how it led to the physical purge of obsolete, diesel-guzzling buses from metropolitan and provincial roads. And Oca Orbos did that without issuing a single press release.
The success of the program was not the only thing that is remembered by Mr. Evardone, now a congressman. It was the fact that the modernization program came after long year of neglecting the sector. And the additional fact that no such similar program has ever been initiated by the government ever since. In short, except for that one single program in 88-89, there was only nada, zilch, zero in terms of incentivizing the anchor of the country’s mass transport system.
You have to always be conscious of the context, Rep. Evardone says. This is a sector that currently carries very close to 100 percent of the commuters moving between the various Luzon provinces and Metro Manila because of the small market share of the PNR. While the LRT/MRT service is very popular, buses still carry the bulk of the commuters moving between Metro Manila routes, he added.
Yet, the anchor of the mass transport system has zero, zilch, nada attention from government, according to Mr. Evardone, who recently proposed the granting of emergency powers to President Aquino to attend to the pressing needs of two sectors—mass transport and power. These two have problems that make them close to breaking point and on the discussion table are mere patchworks and palliatives.
In fact, the only program for the bus industry is the construction of so-called integrated transport terminals, which purpose is to ban the entry of provincial buses into Metro Manila major roads through waiting stations outside of the city. It is not remotely connected to improving the mass transport system. It is a traffic decongestion program.
The integrated transport terminal concept essentially belonged to 20th century and no sane transport planners in the world still cling to this useless transport planning orthodoxy. Developed economies are now giving the roads and tracks to mass transport and in areas like Singapore, the buses have more right to the roads than the car of the prime minister.
It is obsolete, anti-poor and anti-development. It makes no economic sense at all. Yet, it is the only other thing that is close to a mass transport policy, the other one being the beefing up of the MTR/MRT service.
With the context crystal-clear , can you blame Mr. Evardone from proposing a laser-like focus on the mass transport problems and seeking an urgent presidential intervention to do something about it?
Ok, several lawmakers had opposed the proposal. And it is clear that the proposal would not take off. But you have to see where Mr. Evardone is coming from. That something urgent and draconian has to be done to ease the twin problems of mass transport and power rate hike/shortages.
Even with his proposal opposed, Mr. Evardone has done the country a service with his proposal. He has alerted the nation on the dangers of not attending to the two problems of mass transport and power. And the solutions should not be the same old, old formulations.
The laser-like attention to mass transport would, at the very least, expose the utter bankruptcy of policy formulation in many critical areas and concerns. The government is now experimenting on a transport terminal at the Coastal Mall for buses carrying Cavite-based passengers who make their daily commute to Manila. The results: passengers pay more in terms of fares. The hassles and suffering of passengers that had to take double or triple rides to reach their destination have been horrible. The impact of the experiment on traffic flow in Manila? Zero.
The government, it appears, blames mass transport for every traffic woe in the metropolitan areas. How about blaming the Porches , the kind favored by the Napoles family? Or luxury cars . Or the entry level-cars. The average load of cars is one and a half, in contrast to the 35 to 50 per trip of the buses. While car sales have been soaring, the grant of new provincial bus franchises has been effectively frozen for decades.
Why, the Philippines is perhaps the only country in the world that has been bludgeoning its anchor for mass transport and equating it with all forms of evil. The penalty imposed on Melissa Lim, the operator of Don Mariano , for example , was too brutal and bordering on Old Testament punishment. I will deal with this more extensively later.
The focus on the power situation will hopefully lead to the review of the EPIRA, especially the ordure that comes via cross ownerships in the energy sector . In developed economies , there are too very few unpredictable in the power supply sector as suppliers prepare for the worst and all eventualities . There is always standby power to make up for what wattage could not be served.
Here, there are always emergencies and externalities that are invoked to distort pricing and short-cut supply.
The policy debate made possible by Rep. Evardone’s emergency powers proposal—while it may not lead to the grant of such powers—would hopefully reverse the lethargic and orthodox policy approaches to both mass transport and power.