Transport summit

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The hellish traffic jam woes have become the penitence of people who spent the just concluded Holy Week on road trips for out-of-town destinations. It is but the natural consequence of our road and other infrastructure networks that have lagged behind the motor vehicle population, which has grown by leaps and bounds in our country.

This requires a “whole-of-nation” approach, not just by “whole-of-government” approach to address the worsening traffic problems in highly urbanized areas in the Philippines, Department of Transportation (DOTr) assistant secretary and official spokesman Hector Villacorta asserted. Speaking in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last Wednesday, Villacorta was specifically reacting to the proposal of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). 

The MAP has asked the government to declare a “state of traffic calamity” in Metro Manila, to appoint a “traffic czar,” citing the estimated P3 billion worth of economic losses due to the congestion on roads.

“You cannot declare a traffic calamity. You only use it as a metaphor,” the DOTr spokesman quipped.         

“That (appointment of traffic czar) should be tackled in a summit. I would really like to have (instead) a general meeting of all the stakeholders of land transportation,” Villacorta urged. He underscored it is up to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) to decide if there is a need to appoint a “traffic czar.”

While he welcomed the various proposals to help address the traffic problems, Villacorta reminded also the MAP that 17 local government units (LGUs), especially around Metro Manila, are composed of “independent republics” that have its own traffic rules and regulations. Villacorta further pointed to the unbridled sale in the Philippines of new vehicles unlike Singapore that imposes franchise fees for those who buy new cars for private use. 

As of February this year alone, the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc. and the Truck Manufacturers Association reported total vehicle sales accelerated 23 percent higher in the number of units sold in the same month last year. Vehicle sales reached 38,072 units in February this year compared to 35,905 units sold in the same month last year.          

These new vehicles are adding to the existing volume of vehicles all over the country. Instead of expanding or building new road networks, the national government and LGUs designate bike lanes that further restrict vehicle flow on national and local roads. 

Meanwhile, dilapidated public utility vehicles (PUVs) are still roaming the roads. These so-called “rolling coffins” add more hazards fatal to people on the road.  

 This is the core of the DOTr’s long-delayed implementation PUV Modernization Program (PUVMP) wracked by vehement objections by militant operators and drivers groups of public utility jeepneys (PUJs). Tasked to fully implement this is the Land Transportation, Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) – one of the attached agencies of the DOTr in charge of all PUVs operating nationwide. In particular, the PUVMP targets to modernize our country’s iconic jeepneys.

Next target is to replace the present ticketing system in all public utility buses (PUBs) into electronic tap payment system, LTFRB chairman Teofilo Guadiz announced during the same Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last week. Guadiz explained there is nothing new in tap payment since this is the existing payment system in the Light Rail Transit (LRT) as well as the Metro Rail Transit (MRT). Thus, the LTFRB chief foresees not much resistance once they implement this modern tap payment system for the PUBs.

The LTFRB chief credited the Bus Carousel along EDSA has greatly depopulated excess buses that run with few passengers. Out of more than 3,000 buses that clogged EDSA in the past, Guadiz noted, there are only about 400 buses running daily along the entire stretch of Carousel. The LTFRB opened up provincial routes where bus operators deployed their excess units, Guadiz explained.

On the other hand, Guadiz remains optimistic the strong push back against PUVMP has waned much following the Supreme Court (SC) ruling that junked the petitions filed by certain groups of PUJ drivers and operators who earlier sought to stop its implementation. While this ruling is on appeal, the 15-man High Court has yet to rule on a separate petition against the PUVMP jointly filed by PISTON and Manibela.

Based on the latest data of the LTFRB, Guadiz cited, at least 79 percent of all PUJ operators have consolidated to form a corporation, or to form a cooperative that will be allowed to ply their designated routes using the modernized jeepneys. Unless another extension is granted by the President, Guadiz declared, the LTFRB will no longer extend the April 30 consolidation deadline.

 Currently, Guadiz disclosed, five transport network companies operate 23,000 Transportation Network Vehicle Services (TNVS) all over Metro Manila but only half of that total are actually on the roads. This half comprised of TNVS owners who ply their cars for extra source of income as part-time drivers while employed as white-collar workers, he explained. Thus, he conceded, there are requests for additional 10,000 units but Metro Manila can accommodate only 65,000 maximum capacity for TNVS per LTFRB study.

Guadiz also disclosed the LTFRB has allowed four more players in the ride-hailing motorcycle taxis to add to the three existing ones. The four players were each given 2,000 slots valid up to May 31 this year along with the 45,000 slots given to the three players included in the LTFRB pilot study. At present, the pilot study covers Metro Manila, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro. Of the total allocation of 63,000 motorcycle taxis nationwide, 54,000 are registered with the LTFRB.      

By the time the LTFRB motorcycle taxi pilot study ends on May 31 this year, Guadiz is confident they will be able to submit their report to the 19th Congress. It would be the basis of a proposed law to regulate the operations of all these ride-hailing apps. Lack of efficient mass transport system and traffic jams have made motorcycle taxis in demand.  

All these bright ideas on how to solve the country’s traffic problems could be synchronized in a “transport summit” to bring LGU chief executives and lawmakers on the same page.

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