The cancellation of the franchise of the Don Mariano Bus Transit last January 14, 2014 is a long overdue decision. I say this because there have been so many incidents of road crashes in the past involving public transportation that led to the deaths and serious injuries of a lot of people whether they are passengers, the drivers themselves, pedestrians or even innocent people who happen to be at the wrong place and the wrong time (i.e., when and where the crash occurred). The cancellation of the franchise sends a strong message to erring operators and drivers of public utility vehicles including those of buses, jeepneys, UV express and taxis that the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is dead serious about enforcing franchise rules and regulations particularly in the light of road and public safety concerns. The decision is also a strong statement by the agency. One that says they have the balls to make game-changing decisions that is assumed to be intended for operators and drivers to take heed.
I had the opportunity to attend a few congressional hearings at the Batasan a few years ago that were convened by the Committee on Metro Manila Development. The main topics of those hearings were on public transportation. I recall that one hearing focused on the proposal to increase the penalties for traffic violations while others focused on policies being introduced by the MMDA (e.g., dispatching scheme, painting the bodies of buses with their plate numbers, RFID, etc.). In these hearings, the MMDA had been asked by the congressmen to present statistics on road traffic violations by public transport vehicles and they did present the numbers indicating also which bus companies were involved in the most crashes and which incurred the most violations. One question asked by a congressman was why, despite all the incidents and violations that bus companies were involved in, have no franchises been cancelled or revoked. The MMDA quickly and correctly replied that it is the LTFRB that has authority over the franchises. I do not recall how the LTFRB managed to answer the follow-up question trained on them but I don’t think anything close to a solution came out of those hearings. The transcript of these meetings and the data reported by the MMDA should be with the committee and, I presume, should be for public consumption given that these hearings were made in the interest of the general public.
Public transport as a form of “livelihood” should not be made an excuse for the poor quality of public transport services. A driver cannot drive like crazy, crash into other road users and claim that they were only trying to earn a living. Operators cannot scrimp on maintenance and spare parts costs (resulting in poorly maintained vehicles that are prone to mechanical failure and obviously violate emission regulations) just because they want to earn a larger profit. It is a card that is always put on play by public transport operators, drivers, conductors and their lawyers when interviewed, especially by TV reporters. One take on the news reports on TV is that those interviewed were nagpapaawa lang (acting for people to pity them or sympathize with them. Yet afterwards, once the suspension is lifted, these same drivers go back and drive as if nothing happened and still oblivious to the dangers they pose on others travelers. I have written about this in the past and share the opinion that we will get nowhere near the efficient and safe transport services we aspire to have unless we do away with the current practices of reckless driving and smoke-belching PUVs. And the improvement begins when the LTFRB starts canceling franchises of erring operators of public utility vehicles and the Land Transportation Office (LTO) starts revoking the licenses of irresponsible drivers.
Now, if we can only have the LTFRB cancel the franchises of erring jeepney, taxi and UV express operators, then that will send even clearer messages to all that government is really serious about road safety and public transport regulations. Included also are initiatives on truck operators and drivers who are also guilty of irresponsible driving. Perhaps the LTO should follow suit and be more aggressive in their part to rid our roads of erring private vehicle drivers and motorcycle riders? I think such actions are definitely what’s needed under the banner of “Matuwid na Daan” (literally “straight path” but also translates to “right or correct path”). In order to achieve “Matuwid na Daan,” we should also have “matuwid na pagmamaneho” (“responsible driving”).