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Traffic is for real

The Metro Manilan’s attitude towards traffic is “a state of mind that adds to the problem of traffic,” according to the man we look up to for salvation from this daily scourge. Looks like this Cabinet member must also learn to choose his words well, an advice his boss has yet to follow.

Transport Secretary Art Tugade complained we should “stop blaming traffic. If you’re late, that’s that. One thing we will have to address in solving traffic: Change your psyche (that allows) you to every now and then use as a convenient excuse that one word: traffic.”

Teka muna. It is true we often blame traffic for being late for appointments, but it is because it is mostly true. The traffic problem, for Mr. Tugade’s information, is real. The traffic situation really makes us late for appointments. Because traffic is so unpredictable, even if we make allowances for it, it is often not enough to get to appointments on time.

Former newscaster Cherie Mercado, now speaking for the Transport department later complained to the editor of a broadsheet that her boss never said the quote attributed to him.  But in her letter, Cherie made it a bit worse… “What the Secretary is asking is a change in psyche, a platform of cooperation for citizens to be part of the solution, for Filipinos to simply be truthful.”

Aba… sinungaling pa pala tayo… and not being cooperative enough to be part of the solution. Putting the blame on the public even before the Tugade Transport department has done a single noticeable thing about traffic is not the way to go.

Indeed, people have no choice but to cope and bear with the reality of the traffic problem. That’s why many people wake up as early as 4 a.m. to make sure they get to their work by 8 a.m.

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It is too early for Mr. Tugade to turn pseudo-philosophical. At this point, we need the Art Tugade whose can-do attitude we admired during the first few weeks of the new administration… the same Tugade who didn’t even want to blame the Aquino administration when NAIA had to be closed to fix runway potholes. It is too early to lay the foundations for eventual failure on people’s attitudes or psyches, which the statement properly quoted seems to imply.

Actually, Mr. Tugade, most people are hopeless incrementalists… mababa ang kaligayahan. No one expects him to solve the problem overnight despite some of his ambitious promises for the first 100 days. People are happy to see little improvements every day and are ready to give credit to an administration with political will.

Take the air traffic congestion at NAIA. I heard the on time performance or OTP of our domestic airlines has dramatically improved this week to as high as 80 percent. The airlines are quick to credit Mr. Tugade’s leadership for the pleasant reversal of the awful trend inherited from the Aquino administration.

How did this happen? OTP improved because the Transport department finally implemented a policy banning general aviation or private aircraft from using NAIA in the peak hours of the afternoon and early evening. Flight schedules and slot utilization are also now strictly enforced.

During the last administration, no one made sure the airlines followed proper slot utilization. This time, if an airline misses its schedule, it loses its place in the line. No one is allowed to crash the line.

The past administration mostly talked about doing these things but didn’t do it. Congratulations to Sec. Tugade and his usec. for aviation Bobby Lim for finally doing something, rather than merely talking about doing it.

While the deal on general aviation is good, it is not good enough. The promise since the time of Mar Roxas as DOTC sec. was to ban general aviation altogether at NAIA and make them operate out of Sangley or Clark. But nothing happened… no political will to displease the captains of industry riding their private planes.

If the good OTP of the airlines at NAIA is sustained beyond this week, then we know these two small moves,which didn’t cost government a centavo, can produce long awaited relief for airline passengers. On the other hand, I have yet to see similar simple incremental change in land transportation.

 In fact, I am worried the Transport Department under Mr. Tugade is getting overwhelmed. In their submission to the Senate to defend their request for emergency powers, they threw in everything in the mix. Sen. Ralph Recto is now saying their wish list of projects has a price tag of P1.15 trillion, minimum.

This is how to scare the legislators from granting them emergency powers at all. Recto was correct to observe the Transport department should have classified the projects into levels of priority. The list included projects that could be put in the back burner.

Very conspicuous on the list is the pet project of Transport Usec. Noel Kintanar that also incurs the biggest cost: P219 billion for a 14-kilometer subway that will snake through the rich enclaves of Makati and Bonifacio to the Pasay reclamation complex. The project is obviously designed to benefit Kintanar’s previous employer.

As the Management Association of the Philippines already indicated, if we are to have a subway, the Transport department’s own origin and destination study shows that most commutes are in the north-south direction in Metro Manila, not east-west. In any case, a subway is a major long term project that should not be part of the request for emergency powers.

I am also not sure it is right to include the P2.9 billion for the revival of the Pasig River ferry system. Recto said this would fund the purchase of 20 100-passenger boats, the repair of eight terminals and the dredging of the 15-kilometer ferry route.

I am certain they have not given this Pasig River ferry enough thought if only to learn from past failures. I have been asking Doris Magsaysay Ho, who undertook this project what went wrong. She said it is a long story. It took a while but she finally found time to e-mail me her thoughts.

“Magsaysay (Lines) was asked by president Cory Aquino to build a boat system on the Pasig River because of the traffic crisis at that time. We put in boats to have service every eight minutes on points from Marikina to Escolta. Boats were full during rush hour, but empty in between but the boats still had to ply on schedule.”

In other words, the project was a financial failure. Doris said they just wrote off loses to CSR. For the project to work, Doris thinks “transport has to be intermodal and the connection must be seamless. This means that a bus, jeep, tricycle, bike or clean safe sidewalk to walk on, must be immediately accessible from every boat terminal.”

There were other problems: “Unlike most cities in the world, the Pasig River does not have a road along its banks. Imelda Marcos cleared off an area from Guadalupe to Makati but it ends. Thus, the terminals we were able to carve out were located in odd places.

“For example, the Marikina stop at the time was in the middle of a squatter area. I haven’t studied the present landscape to see if new developments along the river, say Rockwell, would offer new opportunities.”

It is also not correct to include the funding for long term PNR, Mindanao and Cebu railway projects in the request for emergency power. In other words, the submission of the Transport department to the Senate seems rather raw… hindi napag-isipan ng mabuti.

They need to be more focused on the short term in asking for emergency powers… kaya nga emergency, kailangan kaagad, diba? The medium to long term projects of the department are totally different things to be covered in the regular budget.

Hopefully the questions raised by the senators will help the bureaucrats at the Transport department to think more clearly. Unless they do, how can we expect them to deliver solutions we can see in the next 100 or even 1000 days?

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

                                    

 

 

 

 

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