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State of the nation’s transport – 2015

July 2015
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The National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of the University of the Philippines Diliman received a few letters from media the past week or so asking for resource persons on transport for today’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) by the Philippines President. It is something like a routine for media to come up with commentaries or reports assessing the performance of the government. This year is a bit special because today’s is the final SONA to be delivered by the current administration. The presidential elections will be in May next year and the next SONA will be delivered by whoever wins in that election. There is already a long list of aspirants, declared or expressing interest, for the top government post in the country, and this includes many who are perceived to be critical if not hostile to the current administration.

I was invited to give an assessment by a major media network back in 2010 and I remember giving that previous administration a grade (using the UP grading system) of 2.0. I explained that I could not give a very high grade because a lot of transport infrastructure remained unimplemented. These included airports, ports, highways and bridges, and, most notably, mass transit systems. I had knowledge though that many of the infrastructure projects were at the end of the project development or already have their feasibility studies and were ready for implementation by the succeeding administration. These were the so-called “low hanging fruits” that were “ripe for the picking” the following years. Sadly, many of the notable low-hanging fruits remain unimplemented. These include the LRT 2 Extension to Masinag in Antipolo City, the expansion of Clark Airport, the rehabilitation of the PNR, and the BRT in Cebu City.

11406782_10153407218587812_7906880412593879007_nTraffic congestion along Commonwealth Avenue – whatever happened to the proposed MRT 7? [Photo courtesy of Rodel Velasco]

I recall a short exchange in social media with a government official whose favourite tagline was something like “We can do it!” He is fond of applying the tagline to a lot of things but especially with certain advocacies and politicians that he wanted to promote. When I asked him about transport and traffic at a CBD his office was involved in developing, the tagline immediately vanished in mention. He was quick to express what seemed to be his resignation that transport and traffic could not be improved in that rapidly developing CBD. This may be partly because they could not influence certain government agencies to expedite the implementation of urgent transport projects that would benefit the CBD. Clearly, to me, the tagline had a limit in terms of its applicability.

It seems the more appropriate tagline should be “Just do it!” as the Nike commercial goes and as adopted by a great senator who recently passed away (one who could have been a good president). It took the current administration a long time to evaluate projects and much of the delay appears to be related to the government’s fascination for PPP (Public Private Partnerships) to the point that their mention of projects being planned for implementation became another type of PPP – PowerPoint Presentation. It has been a frustrating last 5 years for transport infrastructure development especially public transportation and it is partly due t the insistence of the government to almost exclusively depend on the private sector for mass transport infrastructure. One opinion by a colleague that I also share in is for government to put its money (actually the people’s money) where its mouth is (in a manner of speaking) and invest in the construction of mass transit systems for major cities and then look to the private sector to operate/manage these systems. The government doesn’t have a good track record for managing transit systems (e.g., Metro Manila Transit Corporation, Pasig River Ferry Ferry, LRT Lines 1 and 2, etc.) but it has shown that it can build these (again LRT 1 and 2) and others (SCTEX, Iloilo and Bacolod Airports, etc.) if it wanted to. Perhaps we should again reflect on the real state of the nation’s transport come 2016 but do this very quickly so that we could finally alleviate the daily suffering experienced by most commuters.

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