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Business

Good ideas, bad execution

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

DOTr Secretary Art Tugade should be commended for his sense of duty when he decided not to run for the Senate and instead concentrate on completing his many projects. Any two-bit celebrity can run for the Senate, but only Tugade can leave a lasting legacy with his projects.

The thing is… most of Tugade’s big ticket projects will not be completed under his watch. But he should get them to progress enough so that the next administration will have no choice but to complete them.

The real test for Tugade that matters now is how he is able to make commuting within Metro Manila less of a nightmare for ordinary workers. Two commuter projects promised relief for commuters, but are in danger of becoming failures: the EDSA busway and PITX.

To Tugade’s credit, he was able to rehabilitate MRT3, something that was stalled under PNoy. But given IATF rules during this pandemic, MRT3 is not enough.

This is why Tugade decided to make a delicious omelet out of the scrambled eggs that best describe commuting in Metro Manila. He took advantage of the pandemic restrictions to reform the bus operating system on EDSA.

Instead of the old system where buses fight for passengers and worsen traffic flow, Tugade devised the EDSA busway system. Under it, the number of buses were limited to what is required and a service contract system was devised. Commuters ride for free.

Operators are now contracted by the government to go around a carousel route in a lane that is exclusive for buses. Operators are paid according to a formula, so there is no more need to fight for passengers, as was before the pandemic.

The busway is a good idea. It mimics the BRT we see in some major world cities. But because we are using existing buses, the initial investment to get it going is very affordable. We must, however, invest in improving it.

Two problems have emerged in recent weeks. The exclusive busway is not configured for efficiency. Only one or two buses can be accommodated at bus stops... and the carousel route does not go far enough… to MOA as originally planned.

There was a study by an international engineering design group for a BRT on EDSA that should have been used. But MMDA, the implementing agency, preferred to do their makeshift solutions that are not working.

Second big problem is the inability of the government to pay the operators on time. I understand the delay is as long as two months. Because of this, the operators are not deploying as many buses as required, making the wait too long. The crowd of commuters waiting for rides is also unhealthy in these pandemic times.

The response of LTFRB is to issue show-cause orders against the two consortiums operating along the EDSA Busway for failing to deploy a sufficient number of buses. It is an attempt to wash their hands and shift blame.

LTFRB claims the agreed cap on the maximum allowable units of bus units is at 550 buses, but the two consortiums have only averaged as low as 120 units.

If the operators are being paid on time, there is a compelling economic reason for them to deploy more buses. If not, how can the operators even pay the drivers?

Days after the show-cause order was issued by LTFRB, a DOTr official admitted there were technical glitches in the LandBank program to pay the operators. The LTFRB was too quick to blame the operators and even threatened them with cancellation of their permits to operate.

The commuter complaints have been loud for weeks and it took too long for LTFRB to react. They should have known of the problems as these manifested and taken corrective actions.

I can understand why Tugade has delegated the project to his subordinates at LTFRB as he has his plate full with the big ticket projects. But now it is clear that he has to personally intervene again to save the concept from being called a failure.

As for PITX, our first landport inaugurated by Tugade, I have monitored growing complaints on social media about the long lines and the long waits for commuters to get their rides. As one of them puts it, the line at night is from the first floor to the second floor na parang bituka ng manok.

The long lines at night are commuters going home to Cavite. I am told that it is really a challenge for the bus operators because of the 50 percent capacity imposed by IATF. That makes the operations unprofitable. Maybe LTFRB should include this route in their service contract scheme while IATF restrictions are in force.

It is not the fault of the PITX management, which is now being blamed. In fact, they have tried to get special permits issued, asked the Philippine Navy to deploy buses, and have informed LTFRB of the problem.

Looks like in the busway carousel and in PITX, LTFRB is sleeping on the job. If Tugade wants to keep his image of performance intact, he must take a direct hand in executing these projects.

For one, the busway has a budget problem that makes it difficult to build the proper infrastructure. To address that, the project should probably be awarded to a private company or consortium under a PPP arrangement to make sure it works as envisioned. Because there is a technical study already available, the gestation period for awarding and execution should be short.

As we get back to our normal lives, even if still under threat from the virus, it doesn’t mean we should return to the chaos of pre-pandemic commuting. It is alarming to see the daily carmageddon on EDSA, as well as the long lines of commuters crowding to get a bus ride.

The lockdowns gave DOTr the opportunity to test a number of schemes to address the problems. Surely, the busway is a good idea plagued by bad execution. It is the same thing for PITX.

Tugade must make sure his innovative accomplishments don’t end up as embarrassing failures due to bureaucratic incompetence.

 

 

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

DOTR EDSA PITX
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