I had originally wanted to use “Clarifying issues on bus bans and terminals in Metro Manila” as the title for this post. However, I felt it was too strong a title, and one that would be more appropriate for a government agency like the MMDA or DOTC, or an LGU like Manila. More than fault-finding and criticizing government agencies and local governments, I believe we should take a closer and more objective look at the issues (or non issues?) pertaining to the Manila bus ban and the opening of the southwest provincial bus terminal for Cavite-bound buses. Following are my comments on issues raised the past weeks about the two initiatives.
Issue 1: There were no or few announcements about the implementation of the bus ban in Manila and the southwest terminal in Cavite.
Comments: While the bus ban in Manila came as a surprise to many, the move was actually a consequence of a Manila City Council resolution. Normally, such resolutions would take time to implement and would entail announcements for stakeholders. Though we will probably never know the truth or who is saying the truth about the resolution and its implementation, it is likely that bus operators already knew about the implications but decided to call Manila’s bluff and play the media and public appeal cards rather than comply with Manila’s requirements for franchised buses and terminals as they have done before in other issues like fuel prices and fare hikes.
I find it difficult to believe that the MMDA did not do its part in announcing the opening of the southwest terminal. Perhaps people thought the announcement was over a very short period? Or maybe people didn’t mind the announcement and are also at fault for paying no or little attention to the announcement? If so, then the public is also partly to blame for disregarding the announcement from the MMDA, assuming the agency won’t push through with its initiatives to implement central terminals for buses. Next up will be another southern terminal at Alabang and a northern one near Trinoma.
Issue 2: Poor transfer facilities and services including a lack of pedestrian facilities between the bus terminal and transfer point, and lack of public transport like jeepneys to ferry passengers to their destinations.
Comments: I think it’s quite clear that the MMDA and LGUs are at fault here. Despite the construction and scheduled opening of the southwest terminal, there have been limited effort in improving pedestrian facilities. Such facilities needed to be in place prior to or upon the opening of the southwest terminal and requiring all provincial buses to terminate at the facility instead of continuing to Metro Manila. People-friendly facilities could have helped people in adjusting to the new policy though walking from 100 to 200 meters is certainly not for all, especially during this rainy season. Senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) would have specific needs that could have been addressed from day one of operation of the terminal. One approach to “bridge the gap” between the terminal and where people could take city bus and jeepney rides could have been to modify some city bus and jeepney routes to make these closer to the terminal. Ideally, the terminal could have been an intermodal facility providing efficient, seamless transfers between modes of transport.
In the case of Manila, the jeepneys were already there with routes overlapping with buses but their numbers and capacity could not cope with the demand from the buses. Since the main objective of Manila was to weed out colorum buses, it could have coordinated with the LTFRB to check the registration and franchises of buses rather than generalizing among all buses. Perhaps Manila just wanted to make a big statement? But then this was at the expense of the riding public, which obviously got the attention of many including the media. Coordination among agencies and LGUs, however, has not been a strong suit for these agencies, and this thought leads us to the next issue.
Issue 3: Lack of coordination among LGUs and agencies in implementing transport schemes.
Comments: This issue is an enduring one and has been the topic of discussions, arguments and various fora for as long as we can remember. On one hand, the DOTC and the LTFRB should provide guidelines and guidance to local governments on transport planning and services. The agencies should be proactive in their engagement of LGUs in order to optimize transport services under the jurisdiction of national agencies and local governments. On the other hand, LGUs must accept the fact that most if not all of them are ill equipped or do not have the capacity nor capability to do transport planning much less addressing issues regarding public transport. Citing the Local Government Code and its devolution of local transport to LGUs everytime there’s a transport issue certainly won’t help LGUs solve their problems.
Issue 4: Terminals required for city buses in Manila.
Comments: There should be a terminal for city buses in Manila but not a terminal for each company. There should only be one or maybe two terminals where buses can make stops prior to making the turnaround for the return trip. There is actually a terminal in Manila, which the city can start with for city buses. This is the one just beside the Metropolitan Theater and near City Hall, which can be utilized by city buses. It is also close to the LRT Line 1 Central Station so the facility can be developed as a good intermodal terminal for land transport.
Issue 5: Colorum or illegal public transport vehicles in Manila
Comments: This is actually a problem not just for Manila but for the rest of Metropolitan Manila and the rest of the country. The colorum problem is there for both conventional and paratransit services as there are illegal buses, jeepneys, UV express, multicabs, taxis, tricycles and pedicabs everywhere. Many of these are allegedly being tolerated by national agencies and local governments with many allegedly being fielded or owned by public transport operators themselves.
In most cases, the best time to evaluate a traffic policy or scheme is NOT during its first days or weeks of implementation but after a significant time, say at least a month, after it was implemented. This is because the stakeholders, the people involved would take some time to adjust to any scheme or policy being implemented. This adjustment period will vary according to the magnitude or scope of the scheme/policy and can be quite “painful” to many who have gotten used to the old ways. Usually, a lot of comments and criticisms are quite emotional but it is clear that the collective sentiment is the result years or decades of poor transport services and fumbling by government agencies. Transport in Metro Manila is already quite complicated with routes overlapping and services competing with each other for the same passengers. Perhaps it is time to simplify transport while also in the process of optimizing and rationalizing services. I have written about this in this previous post.
More transport issues in Manila will come about should the city train its attention on other modes of transport including jeepneys, UV express vehicles, tricycles, pedicabs and kuligligs. If the city is really intent on reforming transport services within its jurisdiction, it should consider the needs of all stakeholders and especially and particularly the riding public. Transport should be inclusive, people-friendly as well as environment-friendly and there are many good practices in other cities that Manila could refer to and study for adaption and adoption for the city. If it is successful in improving transport, then perhaps Manila could be the country’s model for transformation from being the “Gates of Hell” to being a “Portal to Heaven” to residents and visitors alike.