DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - July 31, 2020 - 12:00am

A few weeks after it was launched, it seems that the EDSA busway may just work. It is also good to see that DOTr seems serious about making it work, but the MMDA still seems half hearted.

The MRT3’s limited operation when some of its workers caught COVID-19 was hardly noticed because the bus augmentation provided by DOTr using the busway worked even better. I am told it was faster than the MRT3, whose speed is curtailed while the rails are under repair.

Allowing other buses plying the so-called carousel route to use the busway helped prove the point of businessman Ed Yap that the dedicated inner lane was just what EDSA needed.

Okay, two pasaway bus drivers went over the speed limit and caused traffic cones to fly and damaged cars in other lanes. That was quickly dealt with by LTO and LTFRB. Hopefully those drivers will never drive again.

But the Ferrari that used the bus lane and was fined a measly P150 by MMDA is horrible. MMDA slaps a fine on helpless jeepney drivers significantly more, but allows a spoiled rich kid to get away with barely a warning.

The only way the busway will work is if it is reserved for the buses, and the rule is strictly enforced. We have already received reports of VIP convoys using the lane, while ordinary motorists sweat it out. MMDA, as the traffic enforcement authority on EDSA, must do its job.

The other good news from DOTr is the scheduled delivery of thousands of concrete barriers in the coming weeks and months. DOTr has procured 36,000 concrete barriers which will be used to segregate the bus lanes from the other lanes of EDSA.

However, they are also thinking of using embedded pole-type bollards after accidents with speeding drivers. The concrete barriers can be used in stretches near bus stops.

Aside from cutting the travel time to Makati from North EDSA to less than 30 minutes, the EDSA busway also aims to cut travel time from Monumento, Caloocan to the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange (PITX) from the usual two to three hours to just 45 minutes to one hour.

I am supportive of this experiment because it is the only hope we have now which does not require more feasibility studies, significant capex and long lead time to implement. Transport experts may scoff at its make shift nature, but it may be the only project of this administration that it originally initiated that is actually being delivered and responding to a long-felt need.

I am not that optimistic about the other projects of DOTr, even those they just inherited from previous administrations. The Malolos to Tutuban commuter train line may be delivered before Duterte’s term expires, but I doubt they can finish its other leg from Malolos to Clark on time.

DOTr is no longer talking much about the southern rail line, including the one going to Bicol. Supposed to be funded by China, I understand they are still in feasibility mode and not even sure Chinese funding is forthcoming. They should have allowed San Miguel to modernize PNR to include that line.

The Japanese, who are funding the north lines, are faster and, I guess, easier to talk to than the Chinese. Duterte may be selling out to the Chinese to the chagrin of most Filipinos, but no Chinese funds seem to be forthcoming.

The LRT1 extension project to Cavite is progressing, but that is private sector led (Ayala and Metro Pacific). The delay was the government’s fault… failure to get right of way on time.

The LRT2 extension to Antipolo, a miserable four- kilometer extension may be completed finally, but don’t hold your breath. Sec Art Tugade inherited the project with the superstructure already finished, but everything else had to go to more public biddings.

In fairness to Tugade, his predecessor, Jun Abaya should have bid out one whole project instead of the chop-chop version. That is the main cause of delay.

But a fire at the LRT2’s Anonas station over a year ago has made the line useless for such a long time now. LRTA is unable to fix the problem up to now. Just goes to show government management of the system cannot be depended on. Who really knows when the LRT2 commuters will finally be able to use that line. Horrible!

One other piece of good news is that the LTFRB has finally come up with its rationalized bus transit maps in Metro Manila. That was long overdue and the COVID crisis gave them a good opening to finally implement.

According to LTFRB, the rationalized routes will significantly reduce the 96 routes to 31 routes across Metro Manila. Fleet consolidation will enable bus owners to benefit from economies of scale. No wonder the bus owners are cooperating rather than hindering this long overdue reform.

Pre-COVID, buses were doing less round trips due to slow traffic, reducing their income. Route rationalization can potentially improve number of trips to help bus owners earn enough to comply with post-COVID distancing costs. It will also allow the transport sector to have better access to financing.

The MRT bus augmentation scheme is also testing the viability of service contracting, wherein the government pays bus owners per kilometer. The drivers get a fixed salary, thus removing the need to break traffic rules to fight for passengers.

The buses leave the starting points on time, regardless of the number of passengers on the bus. This provides dependable scheduled service like the “Love Bus” of the ‘80s that encouraged car owners to leave their cars at home.

When the busway has proven itself, it will be time for the government to impose rush hour or congestion toll fees on EDSA to further discourage passenger cars.Monitoring and charging can be done digitally as done in Singapore.

We are far from where we want to be. But hopefully, we are getting there. It took a pandemic for our officials to take the first steps in fixing NCR’s public transport system. Let us hope it is not another ningas cogon thing.

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

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