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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!
The cancellation of the franchise of the Don Mariano Bus Transit last January 14, 2014 is a long overdue decision. I say this because there have been so many incidents of road crashes in the past involving public transportation that led to the deaths and serious injuries of a lot of people whether they are passengers, the drivers themselves, pedestrians or even innocent people who happen to be at the wrong place and the wrong time (i.e., when and where the crash occurred). The cancellation of the franchise sends a strong message to erring operators and drivers of public utility vehicles including those of buses, jeepneys, UV express and taxis that the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is dead serious about enforcing franchise rules and regulations particularly in the light of road and public safety concerns. The decision is also a strong statement by the agency. One that says they have the balls to make game-changing decisions that is assumed to be intended for operators and drivers to take heed.
I had the opportunity to attend a few congressional hearings at the Batasan a few years ago that were convened by the Committee on Metro Manila Development. The main topics of those hearings were on public transportation. I recall that one hearing focused on the proposal to increase the penalties for traffic violations while others focused on policies being introduced by the MMDA (e.g., dispatching scheme, painting the bodies of buses with their plate numbers, RFID, etc.). In these hearings, the MMDA had been asked by the congressmen to present statistics on road traffic violations by public transport vehicles and they did present the numbers indicating also which bus companies were involved in the most crashes and which incurred the most violations. One question asked by a congressman was why, despite all the incidents and violations that bus companies were involved in, have no franchises been cancelled or revoked. The MMDA quickly and correctly replied that it is the LTFRB that has authority over the franchises. I do not recall how the LTFRB managed to answer the follow-up question trained on them but I don’t think anything close to a solution came out of those hearings. The transcript of these meetings and the data reported by the MMDA should be with the committee and, I presume, should be for public consumption given that these hearings were made in the interest of the general public.
Public transport as a form of “livelihood” should not be made an excuse for the poor quality of public transport services. A driver cannot drive like crazy, crash into other road users and claim that they were only trying to earn a living. Operators cannot scrimp on maintenance and spare parts costs (resulting in poorly maintained vehicles that are prone to mechanical failure and obviously violate emission regulations) just because they want to earn a larger profit. It is a card that is always put on play by public transport operators, drivers, conductors and their lawyers when interviewed, especially by TV reporters. One take on the news reports on TV is that those interviewed were nagpapaawa lang (acting for people to pity them or sympathize with them. Yet afterwards, once the suspension is lifted, these same drivers go back and drive as if nothing happened and still oblivious to the dangers they pose on others travelers. I have written about this in the past and share the opinion that we will get nowhere near the efficient and safe transport services we aspire to have unless we do away with the current practices of reckless driving and smoke-belching PUVs. And the improvement begins when the LTFRB starts canceling franchises of erring operators of public utility vehicles and the Land Transportation Office (LTO) starts revoking the licenses of irresponsible drivers.
Now, if we can only have the LTFRB cancel the franchises of erring jeepney, taxi and UV express operators, then that will send even clearer messages to all that government is really serious about road safety and public transport regulations. Included also are initiatives on truck operators and drivers who are also guilty of irresponsible driving. Perhaps the LTO should follow suit and be more aggressive in their part to rid our roads of erring private vehicle drivers and motorcycle riders? I think such actions are definitely what’s needed under the banner of “Matuwid na Daan” (literally “straight path” but also translates to “right or correct path”). In order to achieve “Matuwid na Daan,” we should also have “matuwid na pagmamaneho” (“responsible driving”).