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LTFRB, MMDA point fingers over provincial bus rules

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
LTFRB, MMDA point fingers over provincial bus rules
The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board will open 12 provincial bus routes between Metro Manila and Central Luzon and Calabarzon starting Sept. 30.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board pointed fingers at one another over the supposed agreement on the implementation of the window hours scheme. 

A number of bus companies, including First North Luzon Transit Inc., Victory Liner Inc., and Five Star Bus Company released separate advisories announcing they are suspending bus trips because "authorities" required only 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. window hours for provincial buses in Metro Manila.

This means that passengers leaving the National Capital Region for their provinces will have to wait until 10 p.m. for their bus trips due to the new provincial bus travel scheme.

Outside of that window, buses can only take on or drop off passengers at designated integrated terminal exchanges along their prescribed routes. But bus companies preferring their own routes and terminals have decided not to ply outside those hours.

In a statement issued Thursday, MMDA chairman Romando Artes said it was the policy of the LTFRB, not the MMDA, to require all provincial buses to terminate routes at the North Luzon Express Terminal in Bocaue, Bulacan, or at the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange.

He admitted that the MMDA and provincial bus operators "had a gentleman's agreement after they requested for extension" allowing provincial buses to traverse EDSA and use their respective Metro Manila terminals during the Holy Week, specifically until April 17 or Easter Sunday.

Artress stressed that the main role of the MMDA "is to strictly implement the traffic rules and regulations, while policy with regards to provincial buses is under the jurisdiction of DOTr and LTFRB."

But the LTFRB in a separate statement said: "The LTFRB would like to clarify that the agency is not privy to the said agreement but was informed of this prior to the more than two-weeks dry run of the said scheme by MMDA, and that the agency respects the said policy they are implementing."

This, as LTFRB executive director Tina Cassion said the agency’s legal division is preparing show-cause orders for provincial bus operators who defied the agreement by failing to send buses to Metro Manila. 

Cassion said in a phone call with Philstar.com that provincial bus operators "were trying to circumvent their agreement" with the MMDA by using EDSA. 

"We're not privy to their meeting [with the MMDA] but we were given a heads up," she said. 

She went on to say that some operators were still going to their own private terminals, which the LTFRB classified as a "security threat." This was the agreement, though, between the operators and the MMDA.

"Based on the inspection of the Office on Transport Security, not one private terminal passed. Even the LTFRB inspection none of them passed in terms of security protocols. That's why we really discourage them from using those," she said. 

"Observance of the window scheme of the MMDA should not connote that provincial bus operations shall only commence and terminate public land transportation services at night time from 10:00 PM to 5:00 AM," she also said. 

Artes said the LTFRB heeded the request of MMDA after provincial bus operators appealed to the agency to allow them to ply EDSA during the window hour period from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., within a two-week dry run which started last week of March.

He added that provincial buses are not prohibited from operating beyond the said window hours, provided that they do not terminate the trips at their own terminals, and instead use the integrated terminals in accordance with the LTFRB policy.

RELATED: LTFRB clarifies window hour scheme for buses

Provincial bus restrictions add to commuter woes, advocates say

Under LTFRB Memorandum Circular 2020-051, a number of intermodal terminal exchanges were assigned during the window hours "in order to facilitate the ingress and egress of people to and from Metro Manila...as part of the standard health protocol," including: 

  • Buses coming to Metro Manila from Central Luzon "shall load and unload passengers at Araneta Bus Port via Mindanao Ave., Congressional Ave Ext., Katipunan Ave."
     
  • Buses coming to and from Calabarzon can only unload passengers at PITx via SLEX or NAIA Expressway, or Cavite Expressway.
     
  • Provincial buses from Central Luzon to Metro Manila shall load and unload passengers at the Valenzuela Gateway Complex 
     
  • Provincial buses from Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, and the Cordillera Administrative Region to NCR load and unload passengers at North Luzon Express Terminal
     
  • Provincial buses from Calabarzon, Mimaropa, and Bicol to NCR load and unload at the Paranaque Integrated Terminal Exchange 

"The agreement with the provincial bus operators, as explained by the MMDA during the meeting of officials from both agencies, was that the said operators may use their private terminals only from 10:00 PM to 5:00 AM. Beyond the window hours, their origin and destination must be at the following ITX, where there are city buses that will ferry the passengers," the LTFRB said. 

In a separate statement, the Move as One transport coalition said the new policy "makes it appear that the 3 agencies are failing to work together to ease the plight of commuters."

"Regardless of who issued this policy, it is already causing great harm to commuters," it said. 

The coalition also estimated a massive shortage of around 2.8 million daily passenger trips in Metro Manila not served by public transportation.

"This ill-conceived and inhumane policy also has negative effects on motorists as it worsens traffic congestion. Many provincial buses serve daily commuters to Metro Manila coming from nearby provinces. If these daily commuters are forced to shift from buses to private motor vehicles, it will result in worse gridlock. It only takes two commuters shifting from buses to private cars to make traffic worse," it said. 

"The policy to restrict the operating hours of buses will worsen the scarcity of public transportation. It is exactly the type of policy that will cause a surge in colorum trips."

Colorum is the term used by the department when referring to vehicles carrying passengers without a Certificate of Public Convenience, Provisional Authority, or Special Permit from the LTFRB, or traveling on roads not covered by their documents.

Although technically illegal, these colorum vehicles fill gaps left by licensed public transportation, with some plying unserved routes. Private SUVs carpooling workers amid the coronavirus pandemic found themselves apprehended by cops and road authorities amid the government crackdown on colorum vehicles.

Sought for comment, Cassion lashed out at advocates and Filipinos opposing the measure. 

"We're establishing intermodal facilities outside the congested areas particularly EDSA because we want to avoid the carmageddon pre-pandemic," she said. 

Move as One disagreed. "Contrary to what the authorities may think, buses are not the cause of traffic in Metro Manila," their statement read. 

"In fact, there are too few buses to serve the needs of commuters, who make up 88% of the people in the megacity. Just look at the kilometric queues of people waiting for hours, desperate to get on buses to get to work and to carry out essential tasks."

What about commuters coming into Manila from the surrounding provinces to work and whose routes are disrupted? "It's not only happening in Metro Manila. Look at the provinces, you go to Cebu, they have South and North terminals also," Cassion said. 

"Nagmamatigas lang talaga dito sa Metro Manila. They don't want order or change, they're very resistant to change. And it's very sad, that kind of attitude that they don't want to cooperate with the government."

'Libreng Sakay' for provincial routes seen to proceed 

The LTFRB also said later Thursday that a free ride route from the North Luzon Express Terminal to Araneta Center Cubao along Route 38 and North Luzon Express Terminal to Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange will begin Thursday under the Service Contracting Program Phase 3.

Cassion told reporters in a Viber message that each route will have 32 units each. 

"The Libreng Sakay is under the Service Contracting Program. If funding permits, we can have it until June 2022," she said. The Service Contracting Program has a P7 billion fund from the General Appropriations Act 2022. 

The LTFRB also admitted that there were "many stranded passengers... waiting for the absent provincial buses to ferry them to their destinations in Metro Manila."

"By not operating as they are required to do so under the conditions of their current special permits, they have made thousands of passengers suffer, such as the financial loss incurred by workers who were not able to work," its statement reads. 

But the Move as One coalition pointed out earlier that Libreng Sakay is only "viable to transport cooperatives and corporations that have the financial capacity to advance transport service operations for a period."

"We believe that Service Contracting is best implemented to partially subsidize public transportation and still allow transport cooperatives and corporations to collect fares," it said in March. 

As early as then, it predicted that Libreng Sakay would only result in a reduction, not addition, of public transport supply because of the "social tension among transport groups and workers plying on the same route."

"Commuters will obviously choose to ride Libreng Sakay PUVs, making fare-based PUV operations less viable amidst rising fuel prices, the net effect of which will be a reduction of public transport supply. Commuters will ultimately suffer the consequences of the more lasting effect of a reduction in public transport supply."

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