The Ayala Land Inc. (ALI) has been issuing press releases about their plan to put up a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for the Makati CBD and the Bonifacio Global City. The system will serve both the old financial center in Makati and the rapidly emerging one in Taguig, connecting the two via Ayala Avenue-McKinley Road and Gil Puyat (Buendia) Avenue-Kalayaan Avenue corridors. It is a project that is long overdue although the buses serving the Fort have shown us at least what a higher capacity mode of transport can do if managed properly.
The Fort Buses load and unload passengers at designated stops. They follow traffic rules and regulations enforced more strictly inside the Global City. Many of the newer bus units also happen to have layouts that are more appropriate for city operations. The Mercedes Benz coaches are designed such that they can accommodate more passengers as they have ample standing space and there are only enough seats for passengers who may actually need them like the elderly, pregnant women, persons with disabilities, and perhaps those who are burdened with heavy bags or packages. The doors of these units are also designed for more efficient fare collection and discharging of passengers, with the narrower front door accommodating boarding commuters who are already queued at bus stops and the wide two door rear egress allowing for efficient alighting. Surely, an automated fare collection system such as those using smart cards or other machines will be in place in the near future and greatly improve the operations of these buses. But the most significant feature, it seems, of the Fort Bus is the compensation scheme for its employees, particularly its drivers. Unlike most bus companies, Fort Bus drivers are given a regular monthly salary and reportedly enjoy benefits much like regular employees in typical companies or offices. This feature, I believe, is what makes it work in the first place and what is required for a transformation in public transport services as it does away with the rabid competition that is the derivative of a commission-based or “boundary” system compensation scheme that is used for both buses and jeepneys.
Considering the calls for more efficient as well as more safer public transport systems, let this Ayala BRT be a test case for what to do with transport systems that should have been phased out a long time ago (jeepneys) along corridors or routes that demand higher capacity vehicles. Public utility vehicles with low capacities and perhaps low quality of service should be replaced by more efficient modes especially along arterials. Also, all the elements are there for a potentially successful PPP in transport. You have a major player from the private sector (Ayala) offering to put up a system that it has studied and designed over the past few years. You have two CBDs in Makati and Taguig that currently serve as the present and future financial centers. And you have the challenge of doing away with an inefficient transport system. Though there sure will be compromises that are not necessarily palatable (e.g., re-routing PUJ and PUB lines) the government should start realizing that it should be more deliberate and even unforgiving when it deals with the issue on PUJ and PUB franchises here.
The local governments of Makati and Taguig should cooperate with Ayala to make this work for these LGUS should put aside certain interests including those pertaining to PUJ and PUB operators and drivers, many of whom may be their constituents and comprise a significant part of their voting populations. The LGUs should facilitate discussions including those dealing with livelihood and othe social issues that are the province of local governments. The Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) should get out of its shell and make a stand now considering the opportunity for public transport transformation. And its mother agency, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) should support this stand, all out, if only to show that it is indeed committed to reforming and modernizing public transport systems in this country.
A BRT finally being realized for Makati and Global City will indeed be a showcase. We just hope that it will be a showcase of an efficient transformation of a public transport system from an outdated to a modern and efficient one rather than a showcase of futility and ineptness on the side of those in government. As they say, something has to start somewhere. A modern, efficient public transport system that is deserved by Filipinos may just start in Makati and Taguig, and with a BRT that may actually mean “better rapid transit.”