On the road | Inquirer Opinion
Thursday, August 16, 2018
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At Large

On the road

“If you build it, they will come” is a memorable line from the movie “Field of Dreams,” about a farmer who, heeding voices in his head, decides to transform his cornfield into a baseball diamond.

Apparently, the line has become a motivational motto for entrepreneurs who are compelled to meet a public need for a service or product which had heretofore been ignored or minimized.

Traffic is not a new phenomenon (or ordeal) for Filipino commuters, who rely on a creaky, inefficient transport system to bring them to and from work. Relying on inefficient and unreliable forms of transportation like the jeepney, public buses and taxis, officegoers find themselves facing a daily struggle just to board public transportation, or else pay exorbitant taxi fares, even if the cabs themselves were rundown and smelled of sweat and pee. Not to mention that the cab drivers themselves are often rude and reckless.

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In the 1990s, commuters embraced a middle-of-the-road solution: public utility vehicles that could take them to and from their destinations in relative comfort and convenience, but which required fares that were only a little bit higher than those charged by jeepneys.

This solution, provided by the private sector and catching most law enforcement and regulators almost by surprise, was most popularly known as the “FX,” after the brand of Asian utility vehicles sold by Toyota. While other brands joined the trend, the FX became the generic term for a small utility vehicle that could seat up to 10 passengers and ferry them from a designated pickup point to a common destination.

Air-conditioned and following a regular route, the FXs quickly became the transport mode of choice for many commuters who were sick of the unreliable jeepneys and buses and the taxis’ extortionist practices.

It was just a matter of time before the government took notice. Instead of feeling grateful for this timely intervention, regulators deemed the FXs illegal. Soon, traffic enforcers were stopping FX drivers willy-nilly, demanding to see permits. Of course, these were not forthcoming as the FX was a purely private-sector response to a clear and overwhelming public need.

After months of disputes (characterized by FX drivers seeking alternative routes just to avoid police) and clashing interpretations of what “public utility” consisted of, the FXs became subject to government regulation, having created a whole new category of public transportation.

Today, the FX system has evolved into the UV Express, with AUVs and even vans taking over the system even as the number of commuters in the entire National Capital Region has increased exponentially.

And now, there’s a new innovation in transport, the result of cooperation between the Department of Transportation and the private sector. It promises to make commuting even more convenient for those who want to avoid buses and jeepneys and find taxis simply too expensive for their road trips.

I’m talking, of course, of the P2P, or “Point-to-Point” bus system. This involves air-conditioned buses (some of which are akin to tour buses) that each plies a regular, predictable route at prescribed times and for relatively reasonable rates.

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Ayala Corp., for one, has gone the P2P route with enthusiasm, providing buses that take riders to and from most Ayala malls to Makati, BGC, or even Nuvali in Santa Rosa, Laguna. Bus lines have also joined the “buswagon.” Just a few days ago, RRCG Lines started offering P2P services to and from SM Masinag and Greenbelt 5 in Makati. Other routes cover the airports (including Clark) and points in Cavite and Alabang.

The P2P buses are a boon not just for commuters but even for the environment. My sister-in-law periodically raves about the Alabang-Makati route. Her son and she typically park their vehicle in the Town Center parking lot, board the P2P, then pick up the car on their way home. This saves them, obviously, money they would otherwise spend on gas. It’s also one vehicle less contributing to air pollution and congestion. Imagine the effects multiplied once P2P covers more routes and picks up more passengers.

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TAGS: At Large, Field of Dreams, public transport, Rina Jimenez-David, traffic
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