Never-ending transport woes
Public commuting for the most part looks like an obstacle race for hapless Filipino commuters but a recent government policy has taken it to the next difficulty level.
Now the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) are pointing fingers at each other over the so-called window-hour scheme that allows provincial buses to use their private terminals, located within Metro Manila, only from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Outside these window hours, or from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m., provincial buses are required to go to PITX (Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange) for Mimaropa, Bicol, and Calabarzon; NLET (North Luzon Express Terminal) for Regions 1, 2, 3, and CAR; and SRIT (Santa Rosa Integrated Terminal) for Visayas and Mindanao. In response to the policy, provincial operators limited their trips to only the window hours, stranding hundreds of passengers without means of transport to and from work.
As the two agencies passed the buck, commuters were left to hang dry with some of them waiting for a ride for up to 10 hours. News reports and social media posts showed crowded terminals and long lines of commuters, as well as anecdotal accounts of those who were forced to use ride-hailing apps such as Grab and Angkas despite the prohibitive cost just to get home, while those who couldn’t afford such luxury like daily wage earners were left stranded on bus stations.
As criticisms mounted, the two agencies blamed provincial operators for interpreting the policy differently. In a radio interview, the MMDA chair even lamented to an officer of provincial public utility bus operators that his agency had been put in a bad light and even threatened to no longer facilitate a meeting to help fix the problem. The LTFRB then accused provincial bus operators of sabotage and issued a show cause order against six of them for failing to operate last April 20, causing a heavy build-up of passengers, particularly in Pampanga bus terminals. To make the new policy happen, the LTFRB has also started offering free rides from NLET to Araneta Center Cubao, and from NLET to PTIX from 1 a.m. to midnight.
Transport hubs located in the peripheries are not unique. Bangkok, notorious for its horrendous traffic jams, has three bus terminals: south, east, and north—but these are complemented with an efficient transport system—such as city buses, sky train, and subway—to provide commuters easy connectivity.
This is what local transport officials have failed to consider with the window-hour policy: the lack of connectivity for provincial commuters who now have to wake up early to catch a bus to Metro Manila, but are left scrambling for transport once they arrive in the transport hubs because there are still no trains and few jeepneys at 5 a.m. or earlier. Then there is the question of accessibility going to the bus terminals for those commuting outside of the window-hour, or from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. While adjustment pains are expected when new policies are introduced, it is necessary for transport agencies to facilitate a smooth transition for commuters and ensure that the beginning and end trips of public commuting—or the first and last mile—are covered. These policies should bring convenience to commuters, not never-ending burdens.
The government needs a comprehensive plan for this, and as Benjamin de la Peña, chief executive officer of the Shared-Use Mobility Center previously said, it should invest in public transportation. De la Peña also said the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” projects will not make a difference in people’s lives if the government will not aspire to make public transportation efficient. According to the Move as One Coalition, 70 percent of people in Metro Manila rely on public transportation but they only take up 22 percent of the space. “We always see public transportation as a problem, yet we only invest limited resources (on it),” said De la Peña. Majority of the public or 87 percent of Filipinos, based on a Social Weather Stations survey in 2020, is also of the opinion that the government should give weight to public transportation over private vehicles.
But policies, such as this window-hour, color-coding, and suspension of bus and train operations a day before the Holy Week holiday, have shown that transport officials are apparently oblivious to the plight of the ordinary Filipino who relies on public transport.
With the elections only two weeks away, it will now be up to the next administration to untangle the country’s transport mess. It is thus important that Filipinos cast their vote for candidates who understand — and experience — the daily travails of ordinary commuters. Only then can public transport policies be responsive to their needs.
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