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A tale of two consultants

January 2015


I attended a seminar last November where there were two foreign consultants who gave talks about public transport and the reforms required for Metro Manila. One consultant had extensive experience in public transport, having worked in Hong Kong and Singapore, and is currently a consultant in Jakarta. The other appeared to have the more limited experience but claimed credit (I think partial at best) for public transport reforms in a major Asian city. I was impressed by the first in part because he was very honest with his statements especially as he explained a list of prerequisites for fixing public transport in Metro Manila (and other large cities). The bottomline from his presentation was that it was not possible to have a quick fix and there are no easy paths towards solving public transport problems in Metro Manila and elsewhere in the Philippines.

The second consultant was more on the patronizing side – promising a lot and a little too optimistic to be realistic or practical in his presentation on how to solve Metro Manila’s public transport woes. His material was hodge-podge at best with lots of visuals but not really getting to the point in terms of concrete solutions. It only betrayed his very limited if not unfamiliarity with transport and traffic in the metropolis despite his being a consultant with the office of the highest official of the transport department. There is a saying that if something seems to good to be true, it probably is. I think the same applies to what the second consultant presented to us that morning.

We need more of the first type of consultants who will tell us how it really is with regards to the “challenges” we face in solving transport and traffic problems in this country. The second type just lets us into a false sense of confidence or a feeling that the problems are not so big or complicated and that we are not in a big, deep hole that we need to climb out of. Its one thing to throw caution to the wind and another to have oneself firmly grounded in terms of the understanding of the problem at hand. Understanding the problem is the first step in the formulation of suitable alternatives and allows for the elimination or at least the minimisation of non-practical and non-realistic options.

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