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Hopes and dreams for a pro-people mass transport system

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Saturday, 26 September 2015 - Last Updated on September 26, 2015
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Everyday the news is almost the same especially when it comes to the issue on public transport: long, snaking queues at the Metro Rail during rush hour, trains stopping midway due to some damages on the tracks or commuters suffering the heat with a defective air conditioning system. Passengers are left with no other choice but to use alternative public utility vehicles like buses and jeeps and then bear with the equally exhausting traffic jams.

The mass transport problem seems to be a vicious cycle of the riding public suffering and  complaining, and government officials blaming the poor infrastructure on the past administration and offering band-aid solutions. So far, what has been done is the introduction of the new tap and load Beep ticketing system’s soft launch.

Next is the purchase of new coaches set to run early next year. Then, the awarding of 6-month maintenance contracts for four of seven components of the rail system namely: the Rail Tracks and Permanent Ways, Buildings and Facilities, Communications Systems, Ticketing or the current automated fare collection system. To date, the train riding public has yet to see effective results.

It does not help that transportation and communication secretary Joseph Abaya himself undermined the situation as he commented in a Senate hearing that Manila’s deteriorating traffic is not fatal. Critics instantly hit back at his insensitivity, killing any political aspirations he may have in the near future.

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On a daily basis, commuters have no choice but to air out their frustrations and deal with the same concerns day in and day out. Commuting employees adjust to the situation by waking up earlier to make it to the office or any destination on time. Quality time meant for family and other more important things is sacrificed. We are stuck in this traffic mess.

 

But do we really have to endure this crisis all the time? Should we be always forgiving and understanding of the authorities’ insensitivity, inefficiency and lack of foresight when the real culprit all along is the privatized mass transport system?

 

In developed countries, like in Europe, for example, the governments do not entrust utility services such as transportation to businessmen lest citizens fall prey.

Premier urban planner, Architect Felino Palafox, Jr. who was the Senior Planner and Team Leader for Development Planning of the Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project (MMETROPLAN) under the Marcos administration, said “eight integrated LRT lines were planned to be accomplished then.”

The comprehensive project was planned to finish in 15 years from 1977, along with a bus rapid transit, and cordon pricing in congested roads. He said that in 1984, Metro Manila had one of the most modern railways when the Light Rail Transit (LRT) started operations.

Unfortunately, it all went downhill from then. After Marcos’ ouster in 1986, the succeeding administrations adapted privatization as a national policy, selling majority if not all of government shares in utilities to investors and private businesses.

Services did not improve that much through the years and consumers have to deal with price increases at the whim of capitalists and we even shoulder hidden charges for the companies’ maintenance and energy losses.

It may be a bitter pill to swallow but returning the service utilities especially mass transport under government control addresses a lot of things. For one, the buck stops with the proper authorities. The principle of accountability in civil service stops the finger-pointing to past administrations, private bidders, maintenance providers and whichever small fry to blame.

Necessary budgetary allotment is given to the agency concerned for the proper infrastructure, better service and maintenance. This is one way where taxes really work for people who contribute in the first place.

Another point worth considering is placing high respect for the riding public. The prolonged problem in mass transportation may be a symptom of disregard by the government for commuters. It helps to listen to their real needs through public consultation with consumer and commuter groups.

An ordinary commuter named Mang Roger was interviewed by a TV network. He opined that private vehicles are given more privilege through access to wider spaces in public highways at expense of the “majority”. Good observation. Along EDSA alone, only two yellow lanes are dedicated to public utility buses while the rest of the three to four lanes are reserved for private cars and taxi cabs. It does not hurt to heed the wisdom of Mang Roger to reverse the order.

Believe it or not, Mang Roger’s wisdom was already embodied 38 years ago as Architect Palafox confirms that “urban mobility was already in check to accommodate the current population of Metro Manila. It also took into consideration that the Megalopolis should prioritize pedestrians and mass-transit over private vehicles.”

The current administration has been encouraging commuters to car pool or avail of mass transport to ease up busy streets but it is not very convincing. Private drivers have been used to getting the wider lanes so why switch to the more congested and slower way for PUVs? This may explain why 120,000 new cars are added every year in the metro’s thoroughfares. If private cars were given access to two lanes instead of four, it is more likely that owners of private vehicles would opt for taking public commute again.

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As for the metro trains, adapting the developed countries’ systematically timed arrivals and departures would certainly encourage de-clogging of stations and more people to avail of this mode of travel. Regular train intervals are a sign of high regard to the commuters’ time and resources. Once this is in place, more private vehicle riders are more likely to take the bus, jeep or train.

Architect Palafox adds another sure-fire formula, “enforcement of traffic rules and road discipline is a must, especially the loading and unloading of buses and private vehicles along EDSA.”

The recent deployment of the Highway Patrol Group (HPG) in major thoroughfares shaped up drivers of both private and public autos knowing that the traffic police mean business in issuing tickets for violations. With heightened consciousness on road ethics, traffic flow has considerably improved. It goes to show that discipline entails not only awareness of one’s responsibilities but sensitivity to other people’s right to road access as well.

Addressing the issues of mass transport does not necessarily mean infusion of millions and even billions of pesos for infrastructure and modernization. More often than not, it entails going back to the basics of simple respect for the majority, self-discipline of both private citizens and public figures and, yes, strong political will.

 

Jasmine Barrios (56 Posts)


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