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It’s that time of year again when people travel a lot of mostly to go back to their hometowns to spend the Holy Week break there. Many will also be going on leisure trips; heading to tourist destinations such as beaches, which are likely the most attractive places during this sweltering summer season. Most people will likely travel on land and would be taking public transportation in the form of provincial buses (while there will be more cars on the roads, more people will be on high occupancy vehicles).
Provincial bus terminal near the end of Gil Puyat Ave. (formerly Buendia Ave.)
One wonders if the mode shares for these provincial trips could have been different at least for Luzon Island if the old PNR northern and southern lines were retained, maintained and modernised. What used to be the Main Line North stretched all the way to San Fernando, La Union with stations at most major cities and towns in Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac and Pangasinan including Malolos, San Fernando (Pampanga), Angeles City, and Dagupan City. Meanwhile, the Main Line South stretched all the way to Legazpi City in Albay with stations in the provinces of Laguna, Quezon, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur and Albay. These included stations in Calamba, Los Banos, Sta. Cruz, Lucena and Naga. Surely, more people would have taken the trains for these long distance trips if the rolling stock were a lot like those operation by Japan Railways?
I decided to take the P2P bus from Robinsons Antipolo to Robinsons Galleria earlier this week. For one, the opportunity presented itself as I had meetings in the Ortigas Center area that day. Second, I didn’t want to drive in heavy traffic along Ortigas Avenue and the area. And third, I didn’t want to worry about parking (my meetings were not necessarily in buildings located near each other). I could easily walk or take a taxi (or Grab car) between meetings without having to worry about a parked car.
Ticket/receipt issued upon payment of the 60-peso fare
The bus was empty but for a few passengers when I boarded. I initially took as seat near the door but then saw the sign by the window stating that the first two rows of seats are preferably for persons with disabilities, senior citizens and others who may require these seats for convenience.
The bus I rode on is of Korean make (Daewoo) and a recent model based on the design and condition of the interiors. The air-conditioning was also strong so most passengers just close the aircon ducts above them.
There’s a bus leaving every 30 minutes. There is a no standing policy so passengers will be directed to the next bus once all seats are taken, even if there’s a lot of time remaining before the full bus departs.
Nearby the bus terminal is a jeepney terminal for the Antipolo-Cubao (via Sumulong Highway) route. Tricycles freely come and go at the terminal. Meanwhile, people may also leave their vehicles at the parking area (free of charge) for the final legs of their daily commutes. These allow for practically seamless transfers between different modes of road transport.
There are several buses at the terminal when I boarded in the morning. I wonder how many are committed to this particular route but the sign on the body of one bus stated that it was for the SM City Masinag – Greenbelt 5 route. I guess the Robinsons Place Antipolo terminal serves as a waypoint for these buses, which are deployed from the RRCG terminal in Taytay.
The trip started at 7:30AM and took about 75 minutes between Robinsons and Medical City, where I alighted from the bus. I figure it could have been about 1.5 hours until Robinsons Galleria if I continued to the end of the route. I actually thought I had to alight at Galleria but then noticed a couple of passengers who requested the driver to let them out at Medical City. Traffic was moving very slowly along that section of Ortigas Avenue and it wasn’t really an inconvenience to the rest of the passengers for a quick stop at Medical City.
And so I quickly changed plans and alighted at the hospital where I figured I could easily get a cab to my first meeting near Shaw Boulevard. I was right and and quickly got a Grab car to my first meeting. I just walked to the next meeting before taking another P2P bus to get home. The bus ride was comfortable and one can even have a short nap without much worry about security as the bus does not stop for most of the route (i.e., with the exception of the Medical City stop). You can easily squeeze in some work as I saw a couple of passengers typing away on their notebooks. Commutes have become difficult to many that the service provided by these P2P buses present a comfortable option to many who could afford it. The P2P buses actually provide services that are supposed to have been delivered by vans (i.e., FX, GTE, UV Express, etc.) but the latter has evolved to be more like an air-conditioned jitney rather than an express service in urban areas. Hopefully, these P2P buses can retain their quality and level of service and it attracts more car users. I suspect that their passengers might be those who are already using public transport and just shifted to one with a higher level of service.
Colleagues are currently undertaking a study for the Partas Bus Company. The management was gracious to tour them around the current terminal in Cubao that is proposed for some major renovations. Part of the tour was taking them inside one of their new deluxe buses, and the bus used in the recent Ms. Universe pageant held in Manila. Here are photos of the interiors of those buses.
Interior of a Partas deluxe bus
One of the company’s deluxe buses
Interior of the “Ms. Universe bus”
Another look at the interior, which includes an entertainment area
The bus has a bar for passengers who might want to prepare some food and drinks while traveling
The leather seats of the “Ms. Universe bus” look comfortable and perhaps perfect for long trips like those typical running between Manila and Vigan in Ilocos Sur (northern Philippines).
Regular buses flanking the “Ms. Universe bus”
We decided to take a Point-to-point (P2P) bus from Quezon City to the Ortigas Center to attend a meeting there. The venue was close to SM Megamall so we thought it best to just take the bus service from SM North EDSA. It was my first time to take a P2P bus but was familiar enough with the service from the research our students have been doing on public transport. Here are some photos from the experience.
There’s a line for passengers riding the P2P bus from SM North to SM Megamall. It appears to be long but it moves pretty quickly because of the frequent bus arrivals that time in the morning (around 9:00 AM).
The bus before ours was quickly filled with passengers. There is a “no standing” policy for this service so when all seats are taken, people in queue would have to wait for the next bus.
Here’s a view of the bus bays at SM North EDSA. The white bus at the right is the P2P bus that just departed.
Our bus arrives at the terminal.
Unlike the first bus that had generic signs/markings on it and only had a signboard on the windshield identifying it as a P2P bus, this one had the service on its livery. The rapid increase in the number of P2P bus routes and buses serving those routes meant that bus companies had little time to properly change the livery of their buses to clearly show these were for P2P services.
Passengers pay at the head of the line and just before boarding the bus.
Our ticket showing the fare paid and the name and contact details of the operator of this service between SM North and SM Megamall. Froehlich is one of the first companies granted a permit to provide P2P services by the government. They actually started the service during the previous administration when DOTr was still DOTC.
The P2P bus services present an attractive option for commuters who are not satisfied with their usual public transport options (e.g., bus, jeepney or UV express) and cannot afford to frequently take taxis or ridesharing (Uber, Grab). They may or may not be car-owners but have longed for better public transport services especially in terms of comfort and convenience. Many are likely able to afford higher fares and will pay such if the services are worth it.
In Antipolo, for example, I have noticed that the parking lot near the P2P bus terminal at Robinsons already have many cars parked (parking is free so far), which I assumed are owned by people opting to take the bus instead to go to Ortigas Center. They have the jeepney and regular bus options (G-Liner and RRCG) but are turned off by the frequent stops and the cramped conditions during the rush hours.
My only other critique of the P2P buses aside from their drivers apparently being just the same as other buses in the way they drive (i.e., I’ve observed many of them are as aggressive if not as reckless as regular bus drivers.) is that these services are actually the higher capacity versions of UV Express. Note that UV Express (previously called Garage to Terminal Express or GT Express and generically the FX taxis of the 1990s) basically operated under the same conditions before with fixed routes and with supposedly only 2 stops (i.e., “point to point”). Hopefully, they won’t be but I also wonder how these services will continue once the new rail transit lines come into operation.
We rode the bus twice in Sydney – first to get from the city to Bondi Beach and the second to go to a train station from Bondi Beach. I wasn’t really able to get a lot of photos inside the buses as they quickly filled with passengers and I wasn’t sure what people thought about someone taking photos inside a bus even for touristy purposes. It is usually better to blend in with the crowd than attract attention to yourself; though it probably didn’t matter much since there were so many Asians in Sydney and wherever we went.
You can use the Opal card to pay for your bus fare.
Buses are laid out to optimize the number of passengers it could carry. There are just enough seats for those who need to be seated. Others have to stand but standing space is important for commutes.
The company providing the P2P bus services is very enthusiastic (aggressive?) in promoting their services especially via social media. Satisfied commuters have also shared their experiences and a lot of photos about the buses and their commutes through social and mainstream media. I have read some articles carried by the likes of Rappler and Inquirer as well as blogs relating about the buses features, what people liked about the service and their suggestions on how to further improve and expand services. These have provided commuters with a taste of how good public transport could be in terms of quality of service.
The operations and the operator seems to have the blessings of the Department of Transportation (DoTr) and not just the present administration but from the previous one when the P2P services started. The fact that they have expanded services further these past few months is a testament to their popularity and the demand for high quality public transport services in Metro Manila. I personally believe that the next step is to give these buses exclusive lanes along their routes. Such would allow for buses to travel faster and providing a significant decrease in the travel times of commuters. Current operations, despite having non-stop runs between origin and destination, run in mixed traffic so their impacts in terms of travel times are diminished. Also, with exclusive lanes, they can probably consider adding a few stops between the route ends and be able to simulate bus rapid transit (BRT) services of which there seems to be little appreciation so far in the Philippines.
While the new buses and routes are very welcome and provide attractive options for commuting, there is still a need to address what is perceived as an over-supply of buses, jeepneys and UV express vehicles in Metro Manila. The attractiveness and higher service quality of P2P buses can pave the way for reducing the numbers of buses, for example, along EDSA. A similar strategy of introducing high quality bus services along other corridors and then reducing bus, jeepney and UV express units there can be implemented but will require much in terms of political will. The latter is important when dealing with operators and drivers of displaced vehicles, who may oppose such transport reforms and probably throw in legal impediments including those pertaining to franchising. Whether such opposition can be addressed by emergency powers or not remains to be seen but hopefully, even without such powers, the government can engage the transport sector to effect reforms and improve public transport (and ultimately commuting in general) not just in Metro Manila but in other cities as well.
There’s a nice interview about transport on ANC’s early morning program. The topic is bus rapid transit (BRT) and the interviewee is a colleague of mine at the University of the Philippines. Dr. Cresencio M. Montalbo, Jr. is actually a faculty member of the School of Urban and Regional Planning (SURP) and a Fellow at the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS). Here’s the link to the interview: