It seems that Metro Manila residents and workers are not the only ones who are unimpressed with the Aquino Administration’s thoroughly asinine approach to transportation management.
On Monday, Albay Governor Joey Salceda, who, despite being an intelligent, practical, and results-oriented politician, is in fact an Administration stalwart, filed a petition before the Supreme Court asking for a temporary restraining order against the ban on provincial buses entering the city.
This was in reaction to the opening of an “integrated transit terminal” in Alabang, which is similar in concept to the Southwest Interim Provincial Terminal—otherwise referred to by the authorities as that slightly obscene-sounding acronym SWIPT, and described by some commuters as “a dehumanizing hellhole”—in the derelict Coastal Mall at the corner of Roxas Boulevard and Mia Road in Parañaque.
The idea behind the “integrated transit terminals” is that buses arriving from outside the Metro area will stop at the edge of the city, and their passengers transferred to local transportation. In practice at the SWIPT in Parañaque, which has been in operation since the beginning of the year, the plan is an utter, chaotic failure; commuters arriving from Cavite and Batangas are forced to contend with a confusing, unsystematic transfer to local jeepneys or FX taxis, and for about half of the arriving commuters, the only way to catch a second ride to their final destinations is to cross Roxas and Mia Road (fortunately, there is a footbridge) and brave the margin of northbound Roxas where pedestrians compete with vehicles in a place where the laws of man do not exist, and the laws of physics are ignored.
To add insult to injury, the ongoing construction of the new airport expressway, which will be elevated above Mia Road, and the recent implementation of the “one truck lane” scheme on Roxas Boulevard create traffic bottlenecks getting into and out of the terminal.
On average, the imposition on commuters is to exactly double the time and cost of their travel, which is why those who are aware of it avoid the SWIPT like the plague.
After having observed for several days during my own commute that buses bound for “Coastal Mall” were only one-third to one-half full while buses bound for any other destination were fully-loaded, I checked with a couple of bus operators, who, after making sure I wouldn’t mention their names out of fear of reprisals from Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis “How Do You Spell Commuter Again?” Tolentino, confirmed that my casual observations were correct, and that the lack of passengers had resulted in trips being reduced and even some drivers and conductors being furloughed.
Salceda’s contention, now that a second terminal will directly affect travelers from his bailiwick, is that travelers from Albay to Metro Manila are being unfairly penalized for the city’s traffic issues by Tolentino’s focus on what is actually the least of the metro’s overworked road system’s problems.
In a post on his Facebook page Salceda fumed, “Why pick on provincial buses whose registrations have fallen from 30,000 to 5,600 out of 7.8 million [it is uncertain where Salceda got the latter figure, however], thus composing the smallest number of vehicles. Moreover, provincial buses get and drop passengers only in their own terminals. And, they would at most make one round within Metro Manila, unlike jeeps, [and]UVs which make at least two trips.”
“So, this measure is injurious to poor rural people in terms of (1) additional inconvenience, (2) additional ‘minimum’ fare, (3) additional time to destination, and (4) double loading. So unfair as it concentrates and shifts the burden of easing NCR traffic to countryside citizens who compose 74 percent of the poor and must seek economic opportunity in NCR where it is concentrated.
This is beyond ignominy. This is premeditated injustice under the guise of policy insanity,” he added.
Salceda also expressed concern about the impact the “policy insanity” might have on tourism. “What happens to our domestic tourists? Or even budget foreign tourists? Pabababain at palilipatin sa another bus?” he asked, probably rhetorically, considering to whom the question was addressed. “And, if they would be differentiated (which is worse), how would you distinguish a local passenger from a domestic tourist?”
For his part, Tolentino, in a report by the Inquirer on Wednesday, defended his brainchild by saying Salceda “may have misunderstood” the scheme, claiming that the Alabang terminal was only intended as a place to divert “colorum” and “out-of-line” buses.
That explanation sounds like something Tolentino made up off the top of his head the instant the question was asked, because it is not the way the existing terminal at the Coastal Mall is operated. And it actually doesn’t make any sense; even under existing regulations (a part of Salceda’s petition is to halt the massive increase in fines and penalties for “colorum” vehicles, which, pending a good explanation from him as to why that should be so, is something I’ll have to disagree with), the terminal would serve the purpose Tolentino told the Inquirer it did for only as long as it took to sweep the illegal vehicles from the roads. Probably a day or two.
Managing a multi-modal transportation network across a physically vast and densely populated metropolis is not an easy job, and never will be, and simply eliminating the ill-conceived and despised “transit terminal” concept is not a solution if better alternatives are not developed. But the former mayor of a town with one traffic light and four paved roads chosen for his political personality rather than any hint of technical knowledge or experience is not the one to develop those, and never has been, because he has never grasped that his responsibilities are fundamentally based on moving people instead of just moving vehicles.
The continuing economic losses due to gridlock and lost productivity every idea Francis Tolentino has floated only seems to aggravate cannot be tolerated any longer; if Joey Salceda wanted to amend his complaint to add, “Compel the MMDA Chairman to go find a different job,” chances are pretty good support for that notion would not be in short supply.