DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Wednesday last week was supposed to be slower than usual, being Holy Week. That’s exactly why the folks at  MRT3 stopped running the trains so they could have enough time for their annual maintenance checks.

No problem with that... or there shouldn’t have been. Public advisory of the planned stoppage of service was issued... but the folks at LTFRB probably didn’t read the notice.

A transport crisis erupted that day, specially in the evening. LTFRB, the agency responsible for running the carousel free bus rides, didn’t make provisions for additional buses to compensate for the MRT3 closure.

Extremely long lines of stranded commuters were all over EDSA waiting for bus rides. I can almost hear the workers complaining that the government forced them to go back to the office, but neglected to provide them with public transport.

I took screenshots of Facebook posts and sent them to DOTr Secretary Art Tugade. From his response to me,  he sounded aghast.

Some minutes later I got another Viber message from Sec. Art expressing his deep apology for the problem his underlings at LTFRB caused. Tugade assured me they were asking bus operators to please field more buses right away. I told Sec. Art that his underlings are selling him short, constantly failing him and the public he serves.

I pity Sec. Art. Frankly, I think of him as one of the more productive Cabinet members of Duterte. After a slow start, he delivered on impossible projects that several of his predecessors stumbled on.

Sec. Art completed the rehabilitation of MRT3 by Sumitomo. He got the long-delayed LRT1 extension project to Cavite going. He also got LRT2 running its full route again after a fire in one of its stations, and finally all the way to Masinag, Antipolo. He got the common station done.

Sec. Art is well on his way to completing the construction of the North Railway line to Clark with JICA’s help. He completed the construction of Bicol International Airport, Panglao-Bohol International Airport and many other smaller airports around the country.

Sec. Art also managed the rehabilitation of the PNR commuter line, just when many of us had given up on it. He is starting work on the Bicol rail line, but because it is Chinese funded, we don’t really know if it will progress based on our earlier sad experience with NorthRail under PGMA.

But Sec. Art also earned the displeasure of the World Bank, which  described the implementation of a BRT project on Quezon Avenue unsatisfactory, five years after it funded the project.

Sec. Art’s other failure is EDSA. He got the busway going, but it was a temporary measure that needs a lot of improvement.

Key to the success of the EDSA bus project is putting up the proper infrastructure. The private sector offered to build what was needed, but it didn’t get off the ground. MMDA had other ideas. So it is stalled.

The buses for the EDSA busway project are LTFRB’s responsibility. The operators are supposed to be gathered into consortiums to put some order in the dispatch of buses, which requires more buses during rush hours.

Because of the pandemic, they introduced a service contract scheme where passengers get a free ride. The drivers are paid a salary and no longer have to pay a “boundary” to the operators. They had problems with implementation.

Every time I get a letter from a commuter complaining about the lack of buses in the busway carousel, I send the complaint to Sec. Art. In response I get a barrage of legalism from LTFRB officials that offer no real solutions to the problems raised.

No offense to Sec. Art who is a lawyer, but maybe his problem is he has more lawyers than engineers who should know how to manage traffic flow and run projects. Sayang. Actually, lawyers with common sense should work fine. I hope his successor will learn from Sec. Art’s mistakes.

Lack of adequate public transportation is just one of the major reasons why life in our metropolis is a test of patience. Traffic jams are a daily kalbaryo of commuters. MMDA keeps on going through the motions of  shuffling the numbers in a number-coding scheme.

The new coding scheme is a bit too complicated for most drivers to remember what days they can or cannot drive on EDSA. Worst of all, coding is not a solution. It just gives the impression bureaucrats are doing something. The solution is to fix the public transportation system.

It is difficult to fix our broken down system. It is easier to start from scratch. That is why there are those who say we should probably give up on our metropolis.

A friend of mine thinks we should stop investing large capex on subways, flood control projects, or even a new water source because those will all be money down the drain. Nothing we do, be it deepening and cleaning the Pasig River or Laguna de Bay will be good enough.

Recent reports from scientists looking into rising sea levels indicate that a large part of Metro Manila will be reclaimed by the sea as climate change worsens.

There is also the constant threat of the big earthquake that experts say is long overdue. That will cut up Metro Manila into four areas inaccessible to each other. That may also break the Angat Dam, which supplies 96 percent of our water needs.

So my friend is of the opinion that we should do what the Indonesians are doing: transfer the nation’s capital away from sinking Jakarta to a safer location on the island of Borneo.

But where do we go? Clark is in the shadow of Pinatubo, which erupted strongly enough to cool down the earth’s temperature by so many degrees. Calabarzon? Taal may decide to upstage its historical big bang.

My friend’s idea is to just let our metropolis be… let it continue to be as hopelessly crowded with its broken infrastructure making it increasingly unlivable so that people themselves will just move out.

There must be a better way. Hopefully the new administration will have some good ideas we can live with.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.


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