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Build, build, build, and the cost of pursuing legacies among our leaders

Much has been written about the current administration’s Build, Build, Build program including it being billed as a “Golden Age of Infrastructure”. Many infrastructure projects though can be classified as “nice to have but not necessary”. They might become necessary in the future but then there are other projects that are more urgently needed now and need to be prioritised given the limited resources that we have. A good example of these “nice to have” projects would be the bridges proposed to connect Panay, Negros, Cebu and Bohol islands. The reality is that it is quite easy to manipulate studies in order to obtain results to support the construction of these bridges including justifying loans that will bring us deeper into unnecessary (for now) debt. You get more bang for the buck if you build instead mass transit systems and transform transportation in major cities of these same islands to favour active transport rather than be dependent on cars. Cebu, Iloilo, Bacolod and other highly urbanised cities now require better public transportation and people-oriented systems. That’s where money should go and that will have a bigger impact from now to the long-term. The government’s infrastructure build-up is linked to the new tax scheme (TRAIN) but also requires a lot of borrowing from various entities including one country that has been documented to take full advantage (i.e., very disadvantageous to the borrower) of countries taking out loans from them (you know which one – China). Do we really want to get mired in such debt?

We all are in the lookout for opportunities that would probably give us something we will be remembered for. This is not limited to the leaders of our country, whether they be politicians or department heads or even district engineers, who perhaps want to be remembered for something they built, or, something they contributed in making a reality. Perhaps this can be in the form of a mass transit line, an expressway, or an iconic bridge? Perhaps for others it is in the form of a nuclear power plant or even a space program. We all have that dream project we want to be associated with.

Why are certain good people not critical of the government’s disastrous war on drugs or the proliferation of what appears to be government sponsored fake news and propaganda? It’s simple. Many of these “good” people are benefitting from the very same government particularly in pursuit of their own legacies (which are their main agenda). If you were an engineer, planner or scientist in government and your projects were funded one way or another, would you dare bite the proverbial hand that feeds you? “Complicit” seems to be a word used by the more hardline among us in terms of the socio-political-economic situation we are in now. But we have to remember that during the regime of Marcos, this was also the situation. The so-called best and the brightest were all employed by the administration back then including prominent names in industry and the academe, who perhaps enjoyed the privileges, perks and funding support for their programs and projects. Never mind martial law and its outcomes.

That is why history and its understanding is important. So we may learn from it and not relive the wrongs made in the past. We are not good in history or its application. Perhaps we only know how to memorise. And memory has its limits. That is among the costs of our current predicament. We withhold history, and memory, in exchange for what we think would be our legacies. At what cost? At what price? Human rights, freedoms, justice, financial stability, and dignity are just a few we can mention. Perhaps the biggest loss will be our humanity as we have become de-sensitized to the well-being of others.

Incomplete rationalisation of public transport?

The current initiative to rationalise road public transport services is not as comprehensive as necessary or as some people want us to believe. The drive appears to be mainly on (some say against) jeepneys while little has been done on buses and UV Express vehicles. Most notable among the modes not covered by rationalisation are the tricycles.

A smoke-belching tricycle along Daang Bakal in Antipolo City

What really should be the role and place of tricycles in the scheme of themes in public transportation? Are they supposed to provide “last mile” services along with walking and pedicabs (non-motorised 3-wheelers)? Or are they supposed to be another mode competing with jeepneys, buses and vans over distances longer than what they are supposed to be covering? It seems that the convenient excuse for not dealing with them is that tricycles are supposed to be under local governments. That should not be the case and I believe national agencies such as the DOTr and LTFRB should assert their authority but (of course) in close cooperation with LGUs to include tricycles in the rationalisation activities. Only then can we have a more complete rationalisation of transport services for the benefit of everyone.

Lazarus franchises?

I was recently asked about my views on Lazarus franchises. At first the term didn’t catch on to me but “Lazarus” is a name that’s associated with coming back from the dead. “Lazarus”, after all, is the Biblical person Brought back to life by Jesus after the latter arrived to find his dear friend had passed away due to illness. It is now being used to refer to a dead public transport franchise that is to be resurrected but under new ownership. I recall I have written about the topic some time ago (many years ago) when I spotted what I thought was a BLTB Co. bus that turned out to be a DLTB Co. Bus. The logo and livery for their buses were the same as are the destinations in Southern Luzon. Then there were the EMBC buses I spotted along my commute that turned out to be operated by RRCG. These obviously are revived franchises and in both cases take advantage of what name recall the brands still have.

DLTB Co. used to be BLTB Co., which stood for Batangas, Laguna, Tayabas Bus Co. Tayabas is the old name of Quezon Province. This is the current company’s terminal along EDSA in Cubao. The old terminal is also along EDSA near Tramo in Pasay City.

I opined “that brands associated with these franchises can be revived but there are prerequisites. These include an inventory of units currently operating in relation to the demand. The rule is to determine first if existing operators/companies can cover the increasing demand. If not, then the LTFRB may decide to open routes for new players including issuance of new franchises. “New” here probably includes “resurrected” franchises that have name recall among people.” To be clear, there is a process by which franchises are granted by the government and this should be followed in order to be fair with current, active franchise holders.

I wonder if the Antipolo Bus franchise can be revived to serve the old Antipolo – Divisoria route?

On the PUV modernisation program – Part 1

Much has been written about the government’s PUV (or jeepney?) modernization program so I wouldn’t really be reposting about these. Instead, I will be featuring some opinions, insights and observations about its implementation.

Following are photos of one e-jeepney model that the government appears to be promoting. This is the e-jeepney produced by Star8 that they claim to be have solar panels for charging while they are on the road. Of course, we know they are not wholly dependent on solar power and have to be charged the conventional way through an adaptor that’s plugged into a regular outlet. These e-jeepneys were supposed to supplement the reduced supply of public transport to mainly UP students, staff and faculty members when the i-ACT (Inter-Agency Committee on Traffic) conducted their “Tanggal Bulok, Tanggal Usok” campaign in the UP Diliman area. First-hand reports revealed otherwise as the e-jeepneys spent more time on stand-by and just charging at one of the buildings on campus.

These are the same e-jeepneys that have been deployed and currently roaming around Tacloban City (promoting themselves?). The intent was for these to be the vehicles plying the new routes approved by the LTFRB/DOTr, which they claim was in response to the request made by Tacloban. The new routes though overlapped with many existing jeepney routes, clearly in violation of the general rule regarding overlapping routes, but allowed nonetheless by the regulating authority.

There are many allegations going around about e-jeepneys being forced upon operators and drivers given what has been regarded by progressive groups as unrealistic (read: unaffordable) financing schemes for the new vehicles. These are certainly not cheap, and double to triple the price of a ‘newer’ conventional jeepney. There are also suspicions about the strong motivation for the phaseout in favour of what are peddled as the successor (or replacement) to the jeepney. That includes a possible collusion among officials and the companies behind these vehicles and allegations (again) of some people likely gaining financially from the set-up. The DOTr and LTFRB PR machine, however, deny this and will gang up on anyone posting about this in their social media page.

In memoriam of road crash victims

I wrote earlier this year about a beloved aunt who was involved in a road crash. She was hit by a jeepney driven recklessly as she was walking; on her way to church one early morning. She was in the hospital for weeks before she finally passed away. It was painful to see her in her hospital bed, unconscious but fighting for her life.

No, I don’t feel anger anymore whenever I recall the incident and note that if the driver were just careful then she would still have been alive today. I feel sad. I feel sad and frustrated that despite all the efforts a lot of people have put into road safety programs and projects, there seems to be little in terms of the reduction of recklessness on the roads. The recent weeks, for example, are full of reports of crashes that claimed the lives of many and injured more. These often involved trucks that mowed down everyone in their paths. Then, you see a lot of motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic, many ride like stuntmen and without regard for life, limb or property as long as they can get away with it.

Additional laws in the form of local ordinances or Republic Acts will not be effective in reducing road crashes and the death toll it has brought upon us. It is the enforcement, the implementation of these rules and regulations. Rules and regulations are just words that, if not acted upon, do not have any effectiveness. And so we get to the root of the problem and that is enforcement; the lacking if not missing ingredient in the road safety broth that is necessary to save lives and create a safer environment for all. Does it deserve more attention and resources from our national government and local authorities who are in-charge of most of the enforce aspects of road safety? I do think so. Statistics on traffic-related deaths, injuries and damage to property compare strongly with if not exceed those attributed to drug abuse. When you purposely drive recklessly and crash into another vehicle or person, one is practically murderous. You also destroy the lives of people related to the person you kill or injure (e.g., that person could be the sole breadwinner of a family). The comparisons and examples are plenty and I am sure a lot of people have their own personal experiences about this as well as their opinions. For now though, let us reflect on those who perished from road crashes and perhaps think not about “what could have been” but instead of “what can be done.”

Misinformation on the PUV modernization project

There was a transport strike today mainly involving jeepney drivers and operators who are protesting the proposed Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Modernization project of the Philippine government. In this age of fake news, there’s also a lot of misinformation going around that gets shared even by well meaning people who probably just wanted to have it represent their opinion about the matter. Unfortunately, this only spreads more misinformation. Nagagatungan pa ng mga alanganing komento.

Following is the reply of the DOTr from their Facebook account:

“PAUNAWA | Isa-isahin natin para malinaw:

1. Hindi tataas sa P20 ang pasahe. Saan nakuha ng PISTON ang numerong ito?

2. Hindi lugi ang driver/operator. Kikita pa nga sila. Bakit?

– May 43% fuel savings ang mga Euro-4 compliant na sasakyan

– Mas maraming pasahero ang maisasakay dahil mula sa 16 persons seating capacity, magiging 22 na.

– Low to zero maintenance cost dahil bago ang unit

3. Hindi rin totoo na hindi kami nagsagawa ng mga konsultasyon.

Ang DOTr at LTFRB ay nagsagawa ng serye ng konsultasyon at dayalogo kasama ang mga PUV operaytor at mga tsuper sa buong bansa, kabilang dito ang mga organisadong grupo ng transportasyon at ang mga lokal na pamahalaaan.

Ang mga konsultasyong iyon ay isinagawa bago, habang, at pagkatapos malagdaan ang DO 2017-011. Sa katunayan, ang konsultasyon para sa paggawa ng mga local public transport route plan ng mga lokal na pamahalaan at ng mga kooperatiba sa transportasyon ay isinasagawa hanggang ngayon sa buong bansa. Maliban sa sector ng PUJ, nagsasagawa rin ang gobyerno ng konsultasyon sa mga operaytor at grupo ng Trucks for Hire (TH).

4. Hindi korporasyon ang makikinabang kundi mga:

– Local manufacturers na mag-didisenyo ng units

– Pilipinong manggagawa na magkakaroon ng trabaho at gagawa ng mga sasakyan

– Drivers at operators na lalaki na ang kita, uunlad pa ang industriya

– COMMUTERS na matagal nang nagtiis sa luma, hindi ligtas, at hindi komportableng public transportation units

5. Hindi anti-poor ang #PUVModernization Program.

Malaking bahagi ng Modernization Program ang Financial Scheme para sa drivers at operators. Sa tulong ng gobyerno, nasa 6% lamang ang interest rate, 5% naman ang equity, at aabot sa 7 taon ang repayment period. Magbibigay rin ng hanggang PHP80,000 na subsidy ang gobyerno sa kada unit para makatulong sa down payment.

Bukod dito, tandaan natin na ginhawa at kaligtasan ng mahihirap ding commuters ang hangad ng programa.

6. Walang phase out. Mananatili ang mga jeep sa kalsada. Pero sa pagkakataong ito, bago at modern na.

ANO ANG TOTOO?

Hindi na ligtas ang mga lumang PUVs sa Pilipinas. Takaw-aksidente na, polusyon pa ang dala. Hindi komportable at hassle sa mga commuters. Ang totoo, matagal na dapat itong ipinatupad. PANAHON NA PARA SA PAGBABAGO SA KALSADA.”

It is easy to get information directly from the DOTr about the PUV Modernization Program. Unfortunately, there are many who choose to propagate misinformation about the program based on hearsay or the misinformation they got from someone else. Call me biased but I know for a fact that a lot of people did honest, good hard work on this. The project was not developed overnight and a lot of thought was put into it. And so its unfair to say “hindi pinag-isipan” (not well thought of). Perhaps a better way is to engage the government about these matters and participate in constructive discussions rather than just pose opposition without even offering any alternative solutions.

On the Uber and Grab predicament

A lot has been said and written for or against Uber and Grab. Social media made sure the more popular but not necessarily the truthful ones are spread. One popular personality associated with motoring has even led an online petition against the rulings by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). An objective check of the facts reveal that LTFRB is not solely at fault here. Uber and Grab should not have promoted themselves and took in additional drivers (nagpaasa ng mga drivers) after the agency issued a moratorium last year. Estimates vary but it seems they have taken in tens of thousands of drivers (20.000? 30,000? 40,000?) and earned revenues along the way to what is now an historic penalty levied upon Uber and Grab by the LTFRB.

Perhaps the most level-headed article I’ve seen online is the following:

The thing about Grab, Uber and the LTFRB [by Vince Pornelos, July 18, 2017, https://www.autoindustriya.com/editors-note/the-thing-about-grab-uber-and-the-ltfrb.html]

It seems all is well, for now, as meetings were held between the DOTr, LTFRB and the concerned parties (Uber and Grab). In one of the meetings, a couple of Senators seem to have brokered a deal to resolve what appeared to be an impasse that a lot of people on social media reacted to. There are definitely a lot of vested (and veiled) interests involved here including those by various “operators” in the transport sector on both the sides of government and private sector. One takeaway though that I observed is that many appear to be against LTFRB even though the agency was truthful about their statements regarding the illegally operating transport vehicles. They seem to have made up their minds about the LTFRB and this is not surprising as transport problems have been festering for decades with little progress in terms of improving transport, conventional or innovative. Most people seem to have lost their patience about transport services and regulation, and perhaps this is a good thing if it translated to demanding for mass transit, too.