FOR commuters feeling their souls slowly evaporate as they inch along in Metro Manila’s gridlock, this sort of announcement from the Department of Transportation (DOTr) has got to be annoying: Yesterday (Wednesday) the department launched a “VIP” point-to-point bus service between Trinoma in Quezon City and Glorietta in Makati, featuring 14 brand-new double-decker buses.
Two of the new units, however, are special. The upper deck of each customized unit is equipped with 52 reclining seats with footrests, reading lights, and individual entertainment centers featuring games, movies, and entertainment apps. The lower deck of each bus has a rest room, sofas, a conference table, and two 50-inch flatscreen TVs, which can (but of course) be used for karaoke.
Of the other 12 buses in the new fleet, which is operated by Froelich Tours, seven are described as “semi-VIP,” while five others are equipped for persons with disabilities (PWD).
The point-to-point concept is a reasonably good idea; the lines established between Makati and Bonifacio Global City are regularly filled to capacity, and similar services in other areas—such as the airport shuttle service that connects the ordinary commuter route junction at Pasay Rotonda with the airport and Resorts World complex—have proven popular as well. The way the model has been applied by the DOTr, or the DOTC before it, however, is as a simple stopgap measure and not part of a larger plan, providing little else but a more comfortable ride for some commuters.
One has to wonder, however, whether the time spent planning a bus service with amenities more familiar to business-class air travelers is really a good investment on the DOTr’s part. Of course, this is the same agency that earlier in the year suggested that a cable car system running along Edsa might be a useful solution, so perhaps we should not be surprised.
The biggest flaw in transportation planning in this country—a flaw that has been apparent for a couple decades at this point—is that it is fundamentally focused on the movement of vehicles, not people or goods, without which, of course, there would be no reason for vehicles to exist in the first place. The commuting public does not need reading lights or KTV, entertaining as those things may be, it needs transportation that moves large numbers of passengers efficiently. While there are plans for such things, such as a Bus Rapid Transit system along Edsa and possibly other routes like Commonwealth Avenue and new light rail lines, the government is doing very little to make the most of what is already available, or can be quickly rolled out.
Instead of focusing on things like prevailing on mall operators to alter their business hours, or modifying existing traffic restrictions like “window hours,” or in other words, simply tinkering with things that have been repeatedly tried before with little positive effect, or for that matter, creating bus services with unnecessary fluffery, the DOTr ought to be spending its time figuring out how many people are moving at what times along heavily-traveled routes, and devising ways to move those people faster.
For example, the “emergency powers” being discussed now in the legislature could be applied to placing numerous bus companies all plying the same routes at the same time under common dispatch management. That would go a long way to making at least one class of vehicles competing for space on Metro Manila’s overcrowded roads more efficient, and might even obviate some of the other restrictions on car traffic that are being considered.
Emergency powers could even be used to oblige those bus operators to install a Magic Sing in each of their vehicles, if the DOTr just can’t get away from the idea that commuting should be fun.