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Promises for a hundred days

Transportation Secretary Art Tugade is one official eager to see immediate results. He is an exact opposite of his predecessors whose pants we wanted to ignite to get them out of their executive chairs and accomplish something.

Tugade wants to quickly make a dent on so many things we deemed impossible from previous experience. Perhaps it is because he was once an entrepreneur in the logistics business where time is of the essence and time is money. Art Tugade is such a welcome change.

But I am wondering if he is perhaps promising more than he can reasonably accomplish in a hundred days. His boss, President Duterte, said as much during last Monday’s SONA. I guess Art feels that by accepting the position, he has to make a difference, the way he did in his first government job as head of the Clark Development Corporation.

Sec. Art has also introduced a new work ethic at the transportation department. Staff cannot hold meetings among themselves during office hours. They have to do it early before the work day starts or after work. Office hours are devoted to providing the public the services they need from them. Holding meetings on their own time encourages them to make these meetings short and productive.

Another rule: no free lunches. Doing overtime work one weekend, Tugade said he had to order some canned food and pandesal to see them through.

I went over Tugade’s “to do” list for the next hundred days and all of the items are common sense things to do. Implementing existing laws, facilitating ground breaking of approved projects and fostering a regime of efficient public service… these are unheard of before in the Transportation Department.

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I met with him last Monday and the good news is that he will implement a low hanging fruit of a solution to alleviate the NAIA air traffic congestion. It is not a new solution because Mar Roxas once announced it as a solution except that neither Mar nor his replacement, Jun Abaya got around to implementing it.

Simply, Sec. Tugade will fast track making more domestic airports night operations capable. By doing this, airlines will be able to better schedule their flights around the clock rather than crowding the daylight hours. That should improve the air traffic situation somewhat.

In any case, our airports should all have ILS and night landing lights. All decent airports should be so equipped except that our officials have been satisfied with primitive conditions. Change is coming, at last.

Sec. Tugade believes in a dual airport mode and is now moving to make Clark a reasonable alternative to NAIA. But even after all the work has been done in Clark, Sec. Tugade rightly sees more value in NAIA as a city airport rather than as a property play for more condos and malls as envisioned previously by Mar Roxas.

As such, Art will improve NAIA facilities, even put up another parallel runway as a means to improve its services while we are building a new gateway in Sangley or elsewhere. Terminal 1 will be improved in terms of passenger comfort and safety. That steep ramp used by arriving passengers to access their cars will go. Terminal 2 will be expanded.

President Duterte said he wants a highway connecting Clark and Manila that avoids all that EDSA and Balintawak traffic. Sec. Tugade will see to it that the San Miguel elevated NLEX-SLEX connector road gets completed faster.

But it seems, all the Transportation Chief can do in the next hundred days is to facilitate ROW acquisition, the principal problem that has delayed the project. He will also put pressure on NGCP, Meralco and other utilities to cooperate by relocating their installations that are getting in the way of speedy project completion.

For example, the contractor is trying to erect some of the giant posts along the Araneta Avenue midsection but cannot proceed further because NGCP/Meralco lines obstruct the construction of the superstructure. Some water/sewer lines have also posed problems.

It is unfortunate the San Miguel project is only around 16 percent complete when it should be at around 55 percent by now. The entire project may be completed in 2019 at the earliest. I think Tugade must move heaven and earth to make completion earlier because it will relieve traffic on EDSA by 50 percent and make travel to Clark Airport less inconvenient.

The right of way problems are serious in the San Juan/ Sta Mesa portion. The TRB ROW team is having difficulty because parcilliary/subdivision plans are incomplete. These plans should be provided by San Miguel. The ROW negotiations also got stalled because of the election. Speeding up acquisition of ROW will be helped by emergency powers.

Back in NAIA, Sec Tugade also listed down some of his deliverables in the next 100 days. Mostly, the list includes enforcement of traffic rules around the terminals and rationalization of rules covering public transportation including taxis.

They are now looking at removing the first x-ray check at the entrance of the terminals to facilitate passenger entry. This initial x-ray check is not done in most international airports.

To relieve arrival congestion problems, they will develop additional apron for aircraft parking and construct rapid exit taxiways, also mentioned by Mar before but never implemented. They will strictly implement flight schedules and slot utilization rules.

They will implement the recommendations of the British consultant on runway optimization, regulate general aviation during peak hours and as mentioned earlier, equip domestic airports with night rated capabilities.

They will study the shift of all turbo prop operations of domestic airlines to Clark. They will also equip Clark with more facilities to improve its capability to take in flights diverted from NAIA. This means, for example, buying more of the stairs used by aircrafts unable to use the tube to discharge passengers.

Sec Art said keeping passengers inside the diverted aircrafts as long as they did last week is unacceptable and inhuman. They are revisiting rules for such situations including when passengers should be given meals and accommodations by airlines.

To encourage more OFWs to use Clark, they will put up a one stop shop where all the government agencies tasked to help OFWs will be in place. This will encourage more airlines catering to OFWs to use Clark instead of NAIA. So far, it is only Qatar that is flying to Clark from the Middle East. Emirates used to.

I will handle the other promised deliverables covering traffic and mass transport in a future column. For now, I just want to share the news from Sec .Art that they have resolved the common station problem for the LRT1 and MRT 3 and MRT 7. He said all parties have agreed to a compromise agreement and if SM still feels aggrieved that its contract was violated, he is open to returning the P200 million SM paid DOTC.

The important thing, Sec. Art said, is that the poor commuter will no longer have to suffer the inconvenience and danger to safety by going down at the LRT Roosevelt station and cross busy EDSA to transfer to the MRT3. But completion of the common station will still take longer than a year.

As for the long delayed car plates, Sec Art is inclined to just call for a new bidding for the supply of new car plates. But this time, he will insist on a local supplier who will stamp the plates here.

Waiting for the courts to unravel that problem with the imported plates will take longer, he said, than doing it all over again. The Supreme Court has issued a TRO stopping LTO from distributing those plates.

Once the car plates are available, it will be the duty of the car dealers to distribute the plates to their customers. Every new car sold will have a car plate attached to it already.

It is ironic that despite the platoon of lawyers in the Roxas/Abaya DOTC, the projects they did roll out like the car plates ended up in a legal mess. Looks like those lawyers are really good for nothing.

Next week, let us see what Sec. Tugade plans to do about MRT 3.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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