The traffic crisis action plan no one bothered to read

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Marlen V. Ronquillo

Marlen V. Ronquillo

THE route rationalization plan announced by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) at a low-key event on June 19, if you just took time to read the whole thing, is the most decisive step taken by the DU30 government to manage the annoying urban traffic crisis. Of course, being a route rationalization plan, it contains no bold words and an urgent call to action. But the fact is this. It is a route rationalization plan with the ultimate aim of decongesting urban traffic. The language is so tame that the path to traffic decongestion is obscured by the technical jargon and definition of terms.

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There is nothing on “endo.” The tax reform is still up in the air. The hoped-for end to the communist insurgency and the Muslim insurrection are at a dead end. But a traffic plan is a real thing and it came in the form of a department action to make up for the slowness of Congress.

The language is really bland and bordering on technocratic. But a rudimentary understanding of the land transport industry will make one see the light – the radical nature of the document and the scale and scope of what it intends to do.

To sum up, the innocuous document on route rationalization does this thing. Amend the century-old Public Service Law. The document does not say it will have the effect of overhauling a century-old law on land transport. But that, precisely, was the intent. The first major provision does away with the old practice of opening new transport routes based on the technical studies called RMCs, or route measured capacity.

The DOTr and the Land Transport Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB), guided by the RMCs, opened new PUV routes on so-called “underserved“ areas. The June 19 department order (DO) scraps this practice, which has been the practice since the institutionalization of PUV routes.

The DOTr expects to use its identified new form of opening and awarding routes to modernize mass transport, make mass transport operators the dominant carriers, and usher in an environment that would make commuters see the benefits of using mass transport, not private vehicles. These things are all in the document and explained in plain English. Media, which are currently asking whatever happened to the proposed emergency law, just failed to read the document and appreciate its importance.

Before I go to the main theme of the DO on route rationalization, the rationale stated for overhauling the franchising system for all types of vehicles (buses, mini-buses, jeepneys etc.) is worth noting. It admits an inconvenient truth about the root of the urban traffic jams: that private cars and motorcycles have been the main causes of the traffic jams and their surge has been abetted by a below-par mass transport system. A better mass transport system has to be put in place to supplant the private cars and motorbikes, according to the DO.

The car producers, their rah-rah boys, their lobbyists and those in the motoring industry—all with giant megaphones and media presence—won’t admit it. But it is there in the rationale on why the DOTr decided to write the DO on route rationalization.

It is out. It is there. With the DOTr’s admission that private vehicles are at the root of the urban traffic crisis, the debate on what vehicle segments should be kept off the roads has been settled.
So, what are the details of the route rationalization cum traffic decongestion plan?

The DOTr, instead of conducting RMCs to identify – and open – new PUV routes will tap LGUs to conduct current and updated transport studies. What are the areas with explosive commuter traffic growths? What are those in a state of regression? On the areas with expanding commuter base, the DOTr/LGU teams will recommend new route openings, whether these are for buses, mini-buses, jeepneys and the like. There will be a purge of excess capacity for those with declining commuter traffic.

Private operators applying for newly opened routes will be subjected to a rigid scrutiny, mostly their technical, operational and financial capacities. The DOTr purge will cover the rolling units as well to make sure only modern and environment friendly PUVs are on the roads.

The rules of operating PUVs will move into an entirely new ballgame, a 21st century version, according to the DO. Without such 21st century version, there would be no incentive on the part of the commuters to shift to mass transport.

The weak point of the DO is its failure to deal with cars and private vehicles that occupy three-fourths of EDSA and other major metropolitan roads anytime of the day. The DO merely admits that cars and other private vehicles are the problem but does not offer anything in terms of regulating car purchases and use.
Can the mere modernization of mass transport incentivize the car owners to shift and abandon their cars?

Or, should the DOTr complement its route rationalization plan with regulations that would curb car use?

The big question now is this. What will now happen to the Traffic Crisis Act that the House committee on transportation unanimously passed and is about to sail through the House plenary? For all intents and purposes, the DO of the DOTr offers the total package, not just the transitory aim of the TCA. And because the DO is a done deal, it has the effect of supplanting the TCA which approaches the traffic with a totally different approach.
It is not true that the DU30 government failed to act on the traffic crisis. It just announced its solution in a very un-DU30 way: bland language, technocratic approach and very cautiously. It is not what we expect of a DU30 approach to a crisis. But, it is a done deal and even Mr. Duterte will perhaps appreciate the temperance and restraint and caution of the DO.

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