Court of Appeals Justice Normandie Pizarro, as head of the CA’s third division, ruled in late 2016 that the 489 so-called “Lazarus franchises”—which the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) voided in 1993 yet—are valid and can now be registered under the companies of the largest bus-owning family in Luzon.
I will skip the discussion on the legal merits of the Pizarro ruling. The High Court is about to render final judgement on the case. And people I know are opposing the revival. But as a commuter and a citizen, the impact of 489 new buses added into the gridlocks of EDSA is a topic of paramount importance to our deadly lives as tortured commuters. It is a topic that should be openly discussed and dissected. I have been consistently writing on the theme of urban chaos and decay.
What would be the physical scenario just in case—hold your breath—the High Court upholds the Pizarro ruling?
The 489 buses, using the standard size of the 49- to 53-seater buses that ply EDSA, will stretch from Balintawak to Cubao, one of the most terrifying stretches of EDSA. Buses are wider than most of the vehicles that ply our metropolitan roads. So the dystopian horror of 489 new buses into the EDSA mainstream is easy to conjure.
Just one wayward bus can stall traffic for hours. Imagine if we have 489 new buses – all with the potential of going wayward day in and day out.
The update from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is an understated economic impact assessment of the daily traffic gridlocks. The new figure is P3.5 billion, a substantial loss by any reckoning and benchmark. Last year, the loss estimate was P2.4 billion a day. In less than one year, the toll rose by P1 billion a day, which no Philippine conglomerate, no matter how large, earns in a day.
The figure is expected to rise to P7 billion a day in 2030, with a caveat: if nothing is done to ease the EDSA traffic.
In the political sphere, something is being done. Mr. Duterte, we all can recall, sought something like “martial law-like powers” to enable him to cope with the traffic jams. The drift of his request for more powers was clear. This is one problem that is harder to confront than the Maute crisis.
On the PUV front, provincial buses in particular, the policy options are limited. The DOTC, now the DOTr , has imposed a moratorium on the grant of provincial bus franchises since the early ‘90s. The main argument then was traffic. So what the DOTr under Mr. Duterte did was adopt a compromise – all new provincial bus franchises should be point to point or P2P buses – no more regular routes, like the 489 cleared by Mr. Pizarro’s third division.
The final task of drafting the “traffic crisis act” went to Congress. The reason is this: that policy-setting work is really the turf of Congress.
The Senate and the House of Representatives are writing separate versions of the “traffic crisis act.” The thrust of both is clear. No more new buses, either provincial or city buses. The two chambers look favorably to the DOTr solution, which is, just run P2P buses so that all new bus approvals would run express, point-to-point, trips.
The leaders of the two chambers, those doggedly working to come out with an acceptable and viable traffic crisis act have yet to react to the Pizarro ruling. The CA belongs to a co-equal branch of government and intruding into the work of a co-equal branch is not usually done. But we can recall that Speaker Alvarez once blurted out in exasperation that the CA should be abolished. What their private feelings are about 489 supposedly long-dead franchises suddenly given life by Justice Pizarro is something we can only speculate about.
Definitely, it would make their tough work of crafting a traffic crisis act definitely harder.
The question is, how substantial the 489 provincial bus franchises are, which is something that can be clearly explained using the bus firm of another House leader – Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas. The Farinas family has been operating provincial buses from time immemorial, since Rep. Farinas was a kid. His family’s bus company is based in Ilocos Norte. On the other side, we have the Singson family in Ilocos Sur. The two bus-operating families do not even have a total of 489 franchises.
That is how rare franchises are, and how stingy has the government been on the grant of bus franchises.
Now, in one ruling of CA Pizarro, a grant of 489 franchises was done, a mind-bogging event in the bus industry.
The problem is, the 489 will have a bearing on our already gridlocked, tortured lives.
OK, the past is past but it is worth recalling. The LTFRB under former President Benigno Aquino 3rd tried to sneak in the registration of the 489 buses. Like a thief in the night. Amid public outrage, the columns of the late Neal Cruz forced the then DOTC leaders to reverse the LTFRB ruling.
We can only hope LTFRB chair Martin Delgra will not do the same.