Political will 2
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - January 14, 2019 - 12:00am

Last Monday I wrote about the topic of political will, or the lack of it. I cited the example of the chaotic bus situation on EDSA. It is crying out loud for a DOTr response to give us relief from the traffic madness. But I run out of space, so here is the full story.

When we were meeting with DOTr Secretary Art Tugade before he assumed office, he agreed that fixing the traffic mess involves dealing with the 50 or so bus operators on EDSA plying 120 routes using drivers compensated on the boundary system. We all thought to do that requires emergency powers, thinking that the operators and drivers will resist change.

As it turns out, an industry source told me, the operators welcome reform. They are also tired of the chaos on EDSA. The traffic mess has increased costs and reduced income. They make less trips. The drivers are also feeling the pressure of driving for 12 hours under a regime best described as cut-throat competition.

I don’t know what happened to Tugade after he assumed office. I know he asked one of the technocrats in his office to draft a plan and she did. My industry source also said they had initial meetings with DOTr officials and they thought they were progressing well.

No need for emergency power. The operators were ready to cooperate with government. They were also eager to reduce the number of operators to just three to four consortia. This means savings to operators in terms of common parts and procurement of fuel. I understand because DOTr wasn’t moving fast enough, three groups tried forming the consortia on their own. 

Rationalization of the routes is also on the table. The plan called for a 30 percent reduction of buses on EDSA. But the new system will carry more passengers and guarantee availability of buses at all times buses are needed.

The talks moved to modernization of buses. DOTr started talking of requiring operators to acquire new buses following certain specifications. 

DOTr wanted low floor Euro4 city buses to make entry and exit faster, specially for old and disabled passengers. Faster loading and unloading can help ease traffic flow. This type of city bus will also take in about 100 passengers compared to the 60 in current buses. This means less buses needed on the road.

At that point the bus suppliers came in. They lobbied hard for DOTr to adopt their specifications. 

The industry wanted a more open system, but one particular supplier got very close to convincing decision makers to adopt their specifications. The industry reacted, but before things became a scandal, everything stopped. The project is in a coma. 

Sayang. The operators were willing to reform. DOTr should have reorganized the routes first before moving to modernization of the actual buses. Even without the new buses, they would have been able to fix the chaotic traffic situation by fixing the routes and reducing the number of operators. The fleet modernization can come in later.

Indeed it is also appalling that they were not even thinking of electric buses. DOTr was ready to buy specifications of their favored salesmen for buses running on Euro4 diesel. We need a shift to EVs in our public transport to also help clean our air.

Even in the case of the jeepneys, an internationally respected Filipino transport expert commented that “EVs is the future. PUV modernization can take a leapfrog strategy – by skipping the Euro4 diesel stage and jumping immediately to EVs. Capex wise, the EVs and new diesel-based PUV are almost at parity. About 50 percent of the cost of EV is the battery...” Come to think of it, EVs also have lower maintenance cost with fewer moving parts.

The failure is clearly DOTr’s fault. They were distracted by bus salesmen thinking of making big money by selling diesel buses. 

Re-fleeting would entail big money and those operators do not have the resources for capex at this time. It is something they can plan for later. The high cost of new units is also why the jeepney modernization isn’t having an impact even with President Duterte’s strong endorsement that can almost be described as a threat. 

Political will is nice and necessary. But there must also be some sense in implementing it.

Apparently DOTr officials just shout political will, but have no idea how to use it to produce the most benefit for people. 

Another example is PITX... It is another horrific story involving misuse of billions of pesos in capital due to faulty implementation by DOTr. Hay Naku!!!!

Boo Chanco’s email address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanc

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