27 DECEMBER 2007


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 P C I J    I N V E S T I G A T I O N  —  T O O   M A N Y   B U S E S ,   T O O   M A N Y   A G E N C I E S   C L O G   E D S A

Former LTFRB chairperson Elena Bautista thought she had a solution that would quash at least the “kabit” in mid-2006: the voluntary segregation program. Under Memorandum Circular 2006-035, the franchise holder is, in effect, penalized, paying P25,000 over a 12-month period for each “kabit” unit that made use of its name; and the secondary franchise holder pays P50,000 for every unit that will be given proper LTFRB papers.

“I am still reviewing the voluntary segregation program,” says Lantion, whose office has no idea how many operators have applied so far under the program. A court case filed by a bus company has also hindered the program from moving forward.

In the meantime, operators are also watching closely the proposed congressional amendment of Commonwealth Act 146 or the Public Service Act, particularly the provision on the duration of a franchise.

Lantion says that the purpose of franchising is to “eliminate excess buses.” But it’s unclear to what extent such should be imposed on buses plying Edsa. Although bus ridership on the popular thoroughfare is about a third of the 420,000 daily commuters using the faster and schedule-conscious MRT-3, many commuters would be stranded if the buses were to go on strike or cease to operate altogether.

“MRT-3 cannot handle the added volume,” concedes MMDA division chief for planning and design Neomie Recio. “During the times when MRT-3 has no power, buses are the only available and affordable form of public transport along Edsa.”

Nelly Gonzales, who commutes five days a week from her Quezon City home to her place of work in Makati, says she still takes the bus instead of the MRT. “Taking a bus is still cheaper than taking the train and, chances are, I don’t have to stand up during the entire ride,” she says. “The so-called time-saving advantage of the MRT is not exactly true. If I take the MRT during rush hours, I still would have to wait 15 minutes or more for a train that is not overcrowded. Then, I would have to get out at the Ayala station and walk to my place of work, which is 15 minutes away from the station.”

Compared to the situation on Edsa, the role of buses along Taft Ave., which hosts LRT-1, is less important. There buses account for only 4.6 percent of total vehicles on the road while jeepneys account for 18.6 percent. “Perhaps because it is not as profitable, there are fewer buses plying Taft Ave. than the Quezon Ave./Commonwealth/España route or Roxas Blvd., both of which are not passed by trains,” says Recio.

Yet while no one disputes that buses are crucial to Metro Manila’s public transport system, debates continue on just how many should be on the road, where, and at what time. These have been accompanied by bickering on which government agency or unit should determine such details.

“To a large extent, LGUs decide who ply their streets,” observes Cal. “They monitor demand and supply in their areas of jurisdiction, not the LTFRB, whose franchising system is quasi-judicial.”

“Admittedly,” he adds, “the technical capability of many LGUs in the field of traffic engineering and management is weak. However, this situation also exists in national government agencies, including MMDA.”

The way the MMDA sees it, though, up to 25 percent of the traffic problem can be traced to the interference of non-traffic professionals at the local level. Translated in layman’s terms, that means LGU-appointed traffic aides who are often thrust upon motorists with little preparation for their job.

“The control of traffic in one area affects the control of traffic in another area,” says MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando. “You can’t pinpoint responsibility if all the LGUs want to assert their authority. If there is to be a unity in command, there is a need to revisit the role of LGUs in managing traffic.”

But Mandaluyong City Mayor Benjamin Abalos Jr., president of the City Mayors League of the Philippines, says that the MMDA cannot enact ordinances — something that can hinder the agency from implementing its traffic rules all throughout Metro Manila. As a compromise, he says, “The mayors have agreed to attend the regular meetings with MMDA, instead of sending their city administrators. This way, we understand where we are all going and we can work together.”

In any case, the MMDA has gone ahead with designated bus lanes on Edsa, where pink fences and yellow lines segregate buses from private motorists. It also has the Organized Bus Route (OBR) program, which controls the supply of city-based buses on the road through the issuance of queue cards (Q cards) to buses waiting in four MMDA-designated main terminals and 11 satellite terminals. When it was first implemented on December 3, 2003 to monitor bus violations such as overtaking and bypassing, the program lasted just one day because of complaints from bus operators. But the MMDA relaunched it in 2005 and now calls the program a success.

Aside from being issued Q cards, which controls when they can go on the road to take passengers, all buses plying a route are given the same color-coded ID stickers that must be prominently displayed on their windshields. The sticker color for Edsa, for example, is pink. This means that MMDA personnel along the 19 loading stations along Edsa will flag down any bus without the pink sticker and will check its LTO/LTFRB documents to ascertain its legitimacy.

“By the standards we’ve set internally, the program has been successful,” says MMDA-OBR deputy for administration and operation Santiago Frivaldo. “We have eliminated the ‘colorum’ problem among city-based PUBs. We have reduced bus emissions. We have also made PUBs more efficient and, therefore, more profitable.”

The LTFRB may disagree with Frivaldo’s claims about colorum buses, while environmentalists would probably challenge what he says about bus emissions. MMDA records do show, though, that a bus currently makes only three to four round trips a day, each time with an average of 60 passengers. In comparison, a bus before OBR made between five and six round trips a day, each trip with 30 to 35 passengers. By eliminating the “out-of-liners,” the load factor or the ratio of number of passengers and seating capacity of OBR participants has thus improved from 70 percent to 80 percent in the last two years.

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