Albay Rep. Joey Salceda’s numeracy skills are rarely matched in a chamber of close to 300 members. He was a prodigious stock picker at the Exchange. He advised Presidents on economic issues backed by data and econometrics. That he can count is beyond question. His numeracy has real world applications. He was barely contested in his last three runs for governor of his province due to his mastery of polling data and voting demographics.
Last week, he was on a Facebook rampage that cited a lot of data on vehicle presence, road use and time and motion study. First, what got his attention? According to Salceda, Metro Manila mayors are back to their stupid plan. Which is to ban provincial buses from entering Metro Manila to make room for the mayors’ favorite carriers – cars. And the mayors’ SUVs, of course.
Salceda summed up his opposition to that in all-caps. POKEMON PLAYING IN PRIVATE CARS POSE BIGGER THREAT TO NCR TRAFFIC THAN PROVINCIAL BUSES.
He then posed two questions. What is the empirical basis of this nonsense ban? What simulation projections, time and motion study and analysis of current situation underpin the proposal? He observed that whenever the issue of Metro Manila traffic crops up, the kneejerk reaction has been the stupid ban on provincial buses. To prove the “kneejerk point, Salceda presented his own data.
• Currently, there are only 3,300 provincial buses touching Metro Manila routes and many of them are Bicol-based.
• In the ‘80s, there were 30,000 buses from the provinces that entered Metro Manila for a 90 percent drop. He placed emphasis on the 90 percent drop. Salceda did not cite the reasons for the drop. But it is a fact that since the early ‘90s, the government has stopped granting franchises to provincial buses. A strong campaign against colorum buses complemented the franchise freeze.
• Compare the 3,300 buses with 2.5 million private vehicles in Metro Manila.
• Each bus carries 50 passengers per trip. Cars carry five at the most.
• In 2015 alone, a total of 288,609 private vehicles (mostly cars) were sold and mostly for Metro Manila use. (The updated data is about 329,000 private vehicles, mostly cars, sold last year.)
Salceda said the Metro Manila mayors should look into the social implications of their proposal to ban the provincial buses. View the ban in terms of what would happen to the provincial passengers. Think of three issues: additional inconvenience, additional fares, double, triple rides instead of one seamless ride to the terminals.
What happens to local tourists on a budget? Or, foreign tourists on a budget? He said that the poor, the “promdis” who in the first place are under-served by government, will be hard hit by the proposed ban.
Salceda’s Facebook rampage was just in time for the start of the public hearings (Senate now, later House) on the proposed grant to emergency powers to President Duterte, powers which are aimed at easing the gridlocks on Metro Manila roads, specifically EDSA. One of the items in the proposed emergency power grant is the relocation of the buses from their EDSA and Metro Manila terminals into areas outside of the metropolis. Which is more or less in sync with the proposal of the Metro Manila mayors.
That plan is anti-poor, anti-math and will not simply work, according to Salceda. There is more.
The plan is more or less a sustenance of the Aquino-administration proposal. The Aquino administration was advised against forcefully pursuing it after the HPG – during their stewardship of traffic management at EDSA – reported to Mr. Aquino and Mr. Almendras that private vehicles were the problem and not the public utility vehicles. Even in terms of following traffic rules, the public utility vehicles were more compliant with the rules than private vehicle drivers.
The erosion of Mr. Aquino’s political capital took place after his administration banned all Cavite buses from entering Metro Manila and were forced to load and unload on the Coastal Road. The optic of pregnant women, children, disabled people and senior citizens being forced out from the Coastal Road to get rides into their various destinations in Metro Manila was a display of government insensitivity to the plight of the underclass.
Mr. Aquino once made a lame attempt to find out whether his grand traffic experiment worked and interviewed people at the Coastal Road. What he got was muted rage from the burdened, forced-out bus passengers.
The development of “central bus terminals” outside of the metropolitan areas was essentially a 20th-century idea, which is shunned now by countries that can really carry out sane and math-based transport planning. Governments with math-based planning favor three modes of mobility: Walk, Bike, Use mass transport.
One previous column on mass transport had this reaction. “It is easier to get a second mistress in Singapore than to register a second-hand car.” Indeed, in Singapore, the convoy of the prime minister gives way to passing buses.
The last big headline on transport planning was this: “Barcelona reclaims its streets from cars.”
Only countries that can’t count and do math-based traffic alleviation plans still stick to the failed orthodoxy of banning buses from metropolitan roads.
The public hearings on the proposed emergency powers will just confirm Salceda’s thesis on kneejerk reactions and inconvenient truths.