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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?

Legit or kabit?

Traveling one morning from Antipolo, I spotted a bus with a familiar company name – EMBC. The last time I saw these buses operating as public transport was when I was in college, and I thought that the company folded up after losing money. However, I have seen some of their buses being used as shuttle services. It seems that the company has been revived but how is a bit unclear. EMBC stands for Eastern Metropolitan Bus Corporation, which was an old company that served the towns of Rizal along with the Antipolo Bus Co., G-Liner and CERT buses during the 1970’s and 1980’s. EMBC buses competed with the Antipolo Buses with their routes overlapping between Tikling Junction in Taytay, Rizal and Divisoria via Ortigas Avenue, E. Rodriguez Ave. (C-5), Pasig Blvd., Shaw Blvd., and Aurora Blvd. These two had overlapping routes with G-Liner and CERT, which plied the Taytay/Cainta to Quiapo route via the same Ortigas Ave. Extension.

IMG09778-20141210-0850The back of the EMBC bus states that it is run by RRCG Transport with a route connecting Siniloan, Laguna and Ayala Avenue-PICC (it probably turns around at the PICC, where Gil Puyat/Buendia Ave. terminates).

IMG09779-20141210-0854Closer inspection reveals that the bus is operated by Jasper Jean, another bus company that is better known for its Fairview-Alabang services.

EMBC is an old company and one that has been dormant if not extinct for quite some time. Was its franchise resurrected like what allegedly happened to another old bus company, BLTBCo. a few years ago? In this latter case, certain LTFRB officials were supposed to have been axed as they were allegedly behind the revival or “resurrection” of the franchise. I think it is not a “resurrection” case as I have also seen what looked like legitimate EMBC buses with information on the bus body showing EMBC as the operator of the bus unit. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to take a photo of such examples. Thus, it is likely that the bus in the photo above is a case of “kabit.”

The concept of “kabit” (literally “connect” in English) in public transportation is not a new one. It has been used (and abused) in many cases) where the existing franchise holder(s) along a specific route could not deploy the number of vehicles necessary to address the demand for transport. In such cases, the franchisee (an operator) enlists other entities to provide the vehicles. And so there is an agreement among the formal franchise holder/operator and the “kabit” entities outside the contract between the government and the franchisee.

This is one reason why it is not necessarily the main company (franchise holder) that can be the guilty party in an incident involving one bus. However, the penalties (e.g., suspension and fines) are imposed on the franchisee and not necessarily to the “kabit” operators. The latter’s vehicles in turn continue to operate despite the suspension being technically applicable to ALL vehicles bearing the company’s name. Such are among the many issues concerning “kabit” and perhaps also among the strongest arguments to put a stop to this practice that is detrimental to the interests of people taking these buses.

Public transport fare hikes

Bus and jeepney groups often demand for an increase in the fares every time there is an increase in the prices of fuel. The latest one is mentioned in this article via Rappler, where a jeepney group is to hold a protest caravan as they seek a discount on diesel for all public utility vehicles. The reaction from readers is an overwhelming “Annoyed.” And rightly so because while these protests appear to be noble and are often linked by jeepney groups to petitions for fare hike increases (i.e., asking for fare increases if they cannot be given fuel or petroleum product discounts), closer scrutiny of operating costs will reveal flaws in their arguments for fare hikes and discounts. These same flaws also reveal why government agencies charged with public transport franchising and regulation (i.e., DOTC and LTFRB) should have the data and tools for a fair assessment of fares (pun intended).

Data from field surveys conducted quite recently (NCTS, 2012) show us that jeepneys typically average around 3 to 4 km/L on diesel fuel. This is a very low value that is comparable to the income from passengers for one trip over a distance of say 4 km. A fully-loaded jeepney with an average of 20 passengers (9 on each bench plus 2 beside the driver) operating a 4-km route will 160 pesos. However, there are limited reliable information or data on other costs such as maintenance costs and other items including “boundary” and “dispatching.” The boundary is basically a rental fee for the use of the vehicle while jeepney groups charge a fee for dispatching vehicles from the terminal or stop. In a day’s operation, such costs could easily accumulate into a significant total that would eat up a day’s income, usually leaving the driver with just enough to bring home to his family.

This brings us back to the argument against transport being treated as livelihood rather than a service. Many operators or owners of public utility vehicles, whether they have one or more units, tend to scrimp on the maintenance of their vehicles. Poor maintenance manifests in the form of smoke-belching and frequent breakdowns. While smoke-belching contributes to the deterioration of the environment and health costs, breakdowns often lead to road crashes (e.g., tires flying off, problems with brakes, etc.) like the recent bus crash in the Mountain Province where faulty breaks were blamed for the crash.

Jeepney groups often raise issues on the plight of small operators who are usually the drivers of the jeepneys themselves. Many of these people should not even be operating or driving jeepneys in the first place because safe and efficient service is not their priority. Service is second only to the desire to generate income, to earn a living, which makes them drive the way they currently do (i.e., recklessly) and improperly and haphazardly maintain their vehicles. There is seldom serious talk and little done to protect the interests of people who take public transport. These are the same people who are often shortchanged with the poor quality of public transport in our cities and have long suffered for this. Let us hope that the LTFRB will be guided as they decide on this matter of fares and furthermore for the agency to study the state of road public transport franchising in order to weed out people and groups who do not deserve to be operators. I believe there is more than enough data or evidence against such operators if the LTFRB truly wants to reform the system.

Preventable tragedies

Last Friday, a provincial bus plunged into a ravine somewhere in the Mountain Province. The bus rolled several times  before coming to a stop, instantly killing 14 people. Among the fatalities in this crash is a popular comedian/media personality who went by the name Tado and part of a group doing civic work in the area. Foreign visitors were also killed in the crash, leaving many to wonder if perhaps the Department of Tourism (DOT) should also get into the act as it is in the interest of the department to also establish that “It’s safer in the Philippines!” as part of its “It’s more fun in the Philippines!” tagline.

According to initial reports, the driver lost control due to defective brakes but later one report suggested that the driver had dozed off and awoke too late to bring the bus back in control. The slope of the road was downwards and there was significant curvature. This combination is definitely a challenging one for most drivers, even professionals who, like the bus driver, would probably have encountered such combinations of slope and curvature many times, even on a daily basis along mountain routes. One has to be awake and focused on maneuvering a vehicle for such sections. It didn’t help that probably, and I base this on photos of the section I’ve seen online, the road’s barriers were not up to standard in as far as stopping large vehicles like the bus from falling off and into the ravine.

These are preventable incidents, preventable tragedies that occur on a daily basis around the country. It is clear to many that the LTFRB needs to address these problems by taking steps to insure that public transport vehicles such as provincial buses are properly maintained and drivers are fit and in the best condition to drive these vehicles. To do that, they have to be proactive in evaluating bus, jeepney, UV express, and taxi and other franchises under them. These evaluations should delve into involvements in road crashes as well as the frequencies and types of traffic violations drivers have been involved in. Such records of crashes and violations should form part of a set of criteria to suspend and ultimately revoke franchises of public transport entities.

The LTO also has a responsibility here because they are the agency in-charge of licensing drivers. They should make sure that those applying for professional licenses are indeed qualified and not just to drive any vehicle. Therefore, perhaps there is a need to have different types of licenses for different types of professional drivers. Public utility vehicles differ in size and maneuverability so a different skill set and experience is required for buses compared with taxis. Another type of license should apply for those seeking to drive trucks as well as heavy equipment such as payloaders and bulldozers. The TESDA has certification programs for these that are sought out by people who want to drive professionally abroad. These should also be made as requirements for those seeking to drive professionally here. These would ensure that drivers will be qualified and competent as they are responsible for lives and property.

It is also clear that the DPWH and local authorities in-charge of road safety along roads should look into how to make travel safer by investing more into safety devices such as barriers. Crash or accident prone sections can be identified and sturdier barriers designed to keep vehicles on the road should be constructed/installed in order to prevent such types of fatal crashes (i.e., barriers would not prevent head-on collisions, etc.). That is why the DPWH and local governments need to have capacity and capability to assess road safety along national and local roads. These actions address vulnerabilities. These actions save lives.

What can you do to help in this effort? You don’t have to be part of an organized group or a lobbyist to be involved in promoting road safety. You can be involved in simple ways. Be aware of your rights on the road and your being among those vulnerable to road crashes. I am sure you don’t want to be involved in a crash nor would you like a loved one to get injured or, God forbid, perish in a crash. If your bus, jeepney, UV express or taxi driver drives recklessly, be firm in reminding him of his responsibility. You may enjoy a fast ride but are you sure your destination isn’t the afterlife? Think about it. Act on it. Save lives!