• MMDA bus relocation plan faces big challenge

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    As one of the world’s biggest metropolises in terms of area and population, the National Capital Region (NCR) has multiple problems that need the constant attention of the national government, not the least of which is the worsening traffic situation.

    The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) was created in November 1975 by then President Ferdinand Marcos to address the problems shared by the cities and towns that comprise the NCR. This was during the height of martial law.

    While the appointment of his wife Imelda as the first MMDA governor was considered a political ploy, few doubted that the NCR was indeed in dire need of a body to oversee such issues as traffic, garbage collection, public emergencies and the like. As such, the MMDA was retained by every administration after the fall of Marcos in recognition of the need for a central management authority to oversee the metropolis.

    Besides Mrs. Marcos, past MMDA heads have included incumbent Vice President Jejomar Binay, Ignacio Bunye, Ismael Mathay, and Bayani Fernando, among others. The current head is Francis Tolentino.

    Most recently, the MMDA has been experimenting with various solutions to address the traffic situation, notably at the main thoroughfare of EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue). One suggested solution was to relocate the various provincial bus terminals spread throughout Metro Manila. The provincial buses would henceforth be banned from entering the NCR. They would only be allowed to go only as far as the outskirts of the NCR.

    The solution has raised a firestorm among the bus companies, but most especially the commuters who live just outside Metro Manila, but who commute to the metropolis on a daily basis. In fact, a survey shows that the majority of 14 million commuters oppose government’s plan to relocate provincial bus terminals outside of the NCR.

    The survey was conducted by a commuter protection group in May, when the proposal was first broached.

    If the MMDA implements its plan in August, the National Center for Commuter Safety and Protection (NCCSP) said they will haul the Authority to court, to protect the interests of commuters.

    Elvira Medina, convenor of the NCCSP, said that based on the survey the group conducted, 91 percent of the 1,270 respondents opposed the operation of integrated bus terminals to be located at the outskirts of Metro Manila. Majority of the respondents said the plan will only lengthen travel time and make their daily trip more expensive. The remaining nine percent of respondents said the plan will help de-clog EDSA of its chronically unbearable traffic.

    The proposal would only be acceptable if government puts a modern and centralized intercity and intracity transport system that would ferry commuters from these terminals to any point in Metro Manila, Medina told The Manila Times.

    Without such a system in place, Medina fears that the plan will only result in chaos and confusion as the entire metro transport system is simply underdeveloped.

    “It seems that those who want this centralized traffic system implemented lack the proper study to back their plan. They probably did not realize the possible repercussions to commuters and traders once they put these terminals outside Metro Manila,” Medina said.

    She added that more than 4.5 million commuters will be affected by the MMDA plan. Commuters from outlying provinces like Bulacan, Laguna, Batangas and Cavite will be hardest hit as these are fixed-income employees and workers employed in Quezon City, Makati City and Pasig City.

    An Executive Order was signed by President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd creating central terminals for provincial buses. There was, however, no study to backstop the program.

    According to the MMDA, the daytime population of Metro Manila is 14 million while the nighttime population is 11.5 million. There is therefore a movement to and from Manila of an estimated 2.5 million commuters.

    The creation of the Central Terminal System will affect the lives of the commuters and therefore, it is necessary that programs that will be undertaken must be substantiated by tedious and reliable studies.

    Medina said proponents of the integrated bus terminals apparently did not even factor-in the additional expense to be shouldered by commuters in going to these terminals.

    As an example, Medina said that if a commuter wants to go to the integrated bus terminal located at Coastal Mall area in Paranaque City from Taft Avenue, the commuter needs to pay more than usual. A commuter who lives in Cavite and works in Manila has to shell out P20 more per trip.

    Further, the plan could kill the livelihood of small-scale vegetable traders who use public transport to carry their cargo. Once the plan is implemented, traders have no choice but to hire taxis or jeeps just to deliver their goods to market. To cushion the impact of additional expenses, traders have no choice but to increase their prices.

    “That is acceptable if there will not be a major impact on commuters. But before government decides to proceed with a project like this, a scientific study should first be made. Where is the study for this?” she asked.

    “An intermodal transport system should be in place before you start your urban fringe development. Before you initiate development of the transport system outside of Metro Manila, this transport system should be in place,” Medina said.

    Metro Manila does not have a developed rail system which could soften the impact of the plan. The existing MRT/LRT lines can only absorb 850,000 passengers a day. An additional 2.8 million commuters will almost certainly clog the lines and affect operations.

    “Nobody is against development. But before you do any development, you must make sure that the people will not be seriously affected. You are supposed to put up your stations outside of the mega metropolis but before you put up your stations, you must have bridge shuttles, intercity and intracity transport modal systems,” Medina added.

    Meanwhile, Tolentino pointed out that 91% of those surveyed by the NCCSP favored the operation of an integrated bus terminal in the southwest portion of Metro Manila.

    “I am glad 91 percent is in favor of the southwest terminal,” the MMDA chief said.

    But who benefits from the bus terminal plan, the commuter group asked. As with any abrupt move taken by the government, “smart” businessmen can take advantage of the situation by quickly leasing properties just outside the NCR where the provincial buses will be forced to park.

    The NCCSP called on the MMDA to fully disclose who will benefit from the additional terminal fees the government will charge from provincial buses using the common bus terminals.

    Medina also said that Congress must look into the plan with seriousness since it appears that mall developers and government will gain millions, even billions, from fees charged for using the terminals.

    Tolentino said the MMDA will charge an additional P350 per bus, an amount that is sure to raise a howl with the commuting public.

    With the plan set to be implemented next month, commuters who reside outside Metro Manila will have no choice but to shell out more money for their daily commute. Unless the MMDA reviews its plan, or is stopped by a court order.

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