27 DECEMBER 2007
THIS MONTH'S FEATURES
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
IMPROVED LOAD FACTOR, BUT LOWER EARNINGS
Driver Orlan Galay, who plies the Fairview route, says his bus grosses an average of P8,000 a day, from which he gets 10 percent. Even then, Galay is luckier than Albert Tabor who has been driving only for a month and whose bus route through Fairview grosses about P4,000 daily.
The PCIJ found Tabor’s Sta. Maria, Bulacan-based bus lining up for passengers at MMDA’s OBR terminal in Baclaran, which could only mean the bus managed to sneak through the MMDA personnel on the street. The LTO’s Law Enforcement Service also admits that it has yet to computerize its files and has been unable to keep track of bus firms that perennially violate traffic rules or their franchises’ stipulations. Even private motorists who are veteran recipients of traffic-violation tickets say they usually get away with not paying any fines because their infractions — which include invading the lanes supposedly meant only for buses and other public transport vehicles — go unrecorded.
The MMDA, however, is optimistic that city-based buses may have a harder time violating the OBR once it finishes installing radio frequency identification (RFID) chips in all of them. Working much like the tollways’ e-pass or the Government Service Insurance System’s smart card, each RFID chip costs about P1,000, which will be fully borne by MMDA.
“The system itself is good and is in use in many developed countries,” comments Cal. “What I cannot understand is the direct involvement of MMDA in bus operation and not just in policy-making. Would MMDA be liable for any PUB operator’s loss caused by its direct involvement in bus operation? This aspect should be resolved between MMDA and bus operators.”
As it is, the Provincial Bus Operators Association of the Philippines (PBOAP), which has seven active members north of Metro Manila and eight members south of Metro Manila and as far as the Visayas, disputes the oversupply theory.
There is also a proposed multibillion-peso intermodal transport system in which provincial-based buses would no longer be allowed to enter the metropolis. Instead, they would drop off their passengers at designated terminals at the periphery of Metro Manila. These passengers would then take city-based buses or use the loop of interconnecting mass transit systems.
But PBOAP President Homer Mercado argues, “There is a need to quantify and define the role of PUBs. Reducing the number of buses will only mean an increase in the number of FXs (multiple-passenger non-metered taxis) on the road because there are not enough public transport units around. At the end of the day, we are more efficient because a bus can seat an average of 60 people while an FX, excluding the driver, can seat 10 at most.”
Bus operators, however, may have to contend not only with diminished fleets (if they are not forced to close down altogether) sometime soon. Says LTFRB’s Lantion: “I want the franchise to be good for only five years, renewable up to 15 years, depending on the franchise holder’s fleet modernization program and consumer service record. Before I leave, I want to have an industry fleet that is not more than 10 years old.”
In assessing the applications for franchise renewals, LTFRB has now adopted SPEED, an acronym that looks at the five criteria of good service, performance, efficiency, effectiveness, and discipline.
Sixty percent of the country’s passenger buses are currently between 11 and 15 years old. Industry refleeting is placed at only 10 percent a year, in part because even a brand-new China-made bus, which is already 20 to 30 percent cheaper than a similar second-hand unit from Japan, still costs between P2.6 million and P5 million.
Industry players say 70 percent of any refleeting program has to be bank-financed, which only means the bus companies must be credit-worthy or profitable.
It’s a move that has operators howling, but industry observers say it has been long overdue. And for all his criticisms of the efforts of the various government agencies to rein in bus companies, Cal says, “What is happening right now is deregulation, accompanied by strict enforcement in technical aspects such as safety and level of service. Right now, passengers don’t choose a bus because it offers better service compared to others. They just take the first available bus.”
“With less operators,” he continues, “the concept of branding will take hold. Passengers will be able to patronize a bus company, which gets them to where they want to go safely, politely, cleanly, and fast. It’s doable.”
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