Public transportation is infrastructure, too


Ben D. Kritz

EVERY morning between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., thousands of commuters line a five-kilometer stretch of the Aguinaldo Highway through the cities of Imus and Bacoor in Cavite, waiting in vain for transportation to jobs, classes, or other activities in Metro Manila.

Due to a critical lack of public transportation vehicles—buses, commuter vans, jeepneys, and even taxis—some commuters wait up to two hours for a ride, and if they’re lucky enough to find one, they are forced to endure two hours or more of traffic congestion in cramped conditions, as the sheer number of passengers obliges every driver to overload his vehicle.

That is just one location of dozens around the periphery of Metro Manila that have a similar problem, and unless it is addressed, the government’s grand objectives for infrastructure development, at least where those involve land transportation, will be for naught.

Public transportation has been a complete mess in this country for years, and contributes mightily to the bigger problem of traffic congestion that chokes about P2 billion per day in lost productivity out of the national economy. The reason for that is so simple that one must question the competence of a couple of generations of government officials for not recognizing it: Transportation planning and policy in the Philippines has always focused solely on the movement of vehicles, not people.

The regulatory framework for the management of public transportation in and around Metro Manila is a murky mess involving the Department of Transportation, the Land Transportation Office, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, the Metro Manila Development Authority, and dozens of local government units, and it is clearly not working. Almost no decision in any one part of the confusing web of bureaucracy can be carried out without creating some conflict somewhere else, and the result, more often than not, is that nothing is accomplished.

Given the importance of public transportation—roughly 70 percent of the Philippines’ population does not own a car, after all—the most sensible solution is a single agency with authority over all land-based public transportation.

Abolishing the existing LTFRB and removing all responsibility for anything related to public transportation from the other agencies, including local governments, would provide most of the budget needed and at least some of the manpower. And to ensure that it could produce efficient results, its authority should be extended to all the areas that provide the commuter supply to any metro area. Around Metro Manila, that would include the National Capital Region and the adjacent provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Bulacan.

The most important job the new agency would have is to do something that has never been accomplished, and that is to rationalize commuter routes and franchises based on where the commuters are, how many there are, where they are going, and at what times they travel. Doing that would determine the most efficient routes for different types of public transportation, and the volume of vehicles needed to serve each route. Along those routes where the volume of road vehicles needed is simply too high for the road’s capacity, that would indicate where higher volume transportation is needed, either bus rapid transit—which can use articulated vehicles with
a capacity two or three times that of a conventional bus—or light rail.

Besides efficient planning of a public transportation network and the reduction of traffic congestion that would result from it, the biggest benefit of a single agency would be consistent enforcement of rules and regulations.
A rationalized transportation network would obviate the justification for the persistence of the “boundary system,” whereby bus drivers and conductors are paid based on passenger volume. Transport operators can be assured of a consistent level of income with an efficient network, and therefore, have no legitimate reason to continue the system which encourages overloading and other generally unsafe operation.

So far, every effort to reduce traffic congestion during the current administration, or the previous one, or the one before that has had little to no impact on the situation, and has certainly not improved the lot of ordinary commuters. Rather than attempt more futile ad hoc fixes, implementing a long-term solution that addresses the biggest factor in all the country’s transportation ills—the 60 or 70 million Filipinos who rely on someone else to take them to where they need to go—is far more sensible.


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