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Commuters urge Marcos gov't to provide immediate relief, long-term solutions to transport crisis

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Commuters urge Marcos gov't to provide immediate relief, long-term solutions to transport crisis
Passengers pictured at Tandang Sora Jeep Terminal in Visayas Avenue, Quezon City on Oct. 19, 2021. The Department of Transportation is pushing for an increase in passenger capacity of public utility vehicles following the downgrading of Metro Manila's COVID-19 alert level from 4 to 3.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Transport and commuter groups are urging the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to look for balanced solutions to the commuter crisis faced by workers in Metro Manila.

With more industries shifting back to on-site work and students trooping back to face-to-face classes in schools, transport groups have said that the public utility vehicles going out of business due to skyrocketing oil prices have only exposed the commuter crisis that ultimately went unsolved over the two years of the coronavirus pandemic. 

In a statement sent to reporters, commuter group The Passenger Forum said that it was "crucial" to look into long-term solutions to the metro's commuter woes for "a better transportation system especially for the underprivileged sectors."

“This is one of the first big challenges of the Marcos administration. Many Filipinos are suffering due to the sad situation of our transportation. Commuters deserve both immediate relief and long-term solutions to ensure that they will not be further stressed outside their place of work," TPF convenor Primo Morillo said.

“We are hoping that the Marcos administration through DOTr Secretary Jaime Bautista will be able to provide relief for Filipino commuters within their first 100 days in office. As for the long-term solutions, they have a six-year term to do it,” Morillo added.

Photos of congested transport terminals — including the EDSA Carousel stations along the metro's most important highway and the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange where all provincial routes were made to pass through — are beginning to become staple posts again on social media.

The 2022 Gallup Report on the State of Global Workplace states that Philippine workers are the most stressed in Southeast Asia. Labor groups pointed to contractualization, low wages, slow pandemic recovery, and the transport crisis as the reasons for the physical and mental exhaustion of Filipino workers.

“The Filipino commuter is exhausted. The waiting times for public utility vehicles are getting worse every single day. And this gets even worse on rainy days as roofed waiting areas are too small and too few. The incoming DOTr needs to look at how to quickly address the high demand for PUVs while also planning to make our public transport system and [infrastructure] more responsive to commuter needs in the long-term,” Morillo said.

Ways forward not out of reach, expert says

In an interview with Philstar.com, transport economist and Move as One coalition convenor Robert Siy said that there were ways forward with, among other things, the rudimentary service contracting program, EDSA Busway Carousel, and metro bike lane networks established by the Duterte administration.

Siy questioned the execution of these three projects in particular but said the incoming administration could easily build on them with a "service-oriented mindset" instead of being satisfied with the early results, especially given the resounding concerns of commuters on their safety and efficacy.

"We need to have our transportation officials pay attention to the experience of the commuter, we should rate success and rate performance based on how the commuter experience is improving. And we should be measuring things like travel time, waiting time, and travel cost. These are the things which are meaningful for the people who are getting up every day and trying to get to work. And we must make that experience better. That should be the aim," he said in an interview.

"If we pay attention, those performance indicators, we might come up with a different set of interventions, instead of focusing on very big, long gestation projects, we might have a different mix."

He added that the government should continue to allow for the adjustment in the minimum fares on public utility vehicles, pointing out that "it's unrealistic today to expect our bus and jeepney operators to continue operations at the current [situation]" and in the name of public service, as the Inter-Agency Council on Traffic has urged them to.

"We need to allow them to adjust also their fares so that they can regain profitability. We cannot expect them to render services, while suffering losses. So I think that's also fundamental," he said.

For Siy, the priorities of incoming transport officials should be to expand the capacity of road based public transport and make it easier for people to walk or bike safely around our cities.

"Transportation has a very central function in terms of our economic survival. If our transportation system continues to be shaky and continues to flounder, we will be in a very difficult economic situation...I think we will lose our best Filipinos to jobs abroad."

In the past, The Passenger Forum has issued statements suggesting a number of "easy fixes" to the transport crisis, including:

  • allowing more PUVs on the road
  • clarifying guidelines on carpooling and company shuttles
  • maximizing the Pasig River and other waterways for transportation
  • opening new routes and franchises for underserviced areas

The commuter network also raised long-term solutions like having an extensive and efficient train network, working towards interconnectivity of public transport routes, building commuter-friendly infrastructure such as waiting sheds and integrated terminal exchanges, making the country’s urban areas walkable, and slowly veering away from fossil fuel-dependent vehicles.

Incoming DOTr 'committed' to continuing big-ticket projects

In a statement earlier this week, outgoing Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade thanked now-former President Rodrigo Duterte for his appointment six years ago and said that incoming transport chief Jimmy Bautista "has my full support as he committed to study and continue the big-ticket projects and policies of the DOTr."

"As we step down from office, I implore you to give the same, if not more than, amount of support and trust to the next administration...I would also like to reiterate that we shall extend the needed help and support we can give to the new administration," he wrote.

"Looking at how far we have come, I can proudly say that our toil was not in vain," Tugade, who earlier claimed that his department "delivered," also said.

Bautista, a former president of flag carrier Philippine Air Lines, has not yet had his first media briefing with reporters to discuss his plans for the department. In a text message, he said he was still pre-occupied winding down corporate commitments and preparing his plans and programs.

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

JAIME BAUTISTA

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