‘I double dare y’all!’

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

I recently completed a 20-hour round trip from Pasig City to Cauayan, Isabela. Half of that was on a pick-up and the return trip was by De Luxe bus of Victory Liner.

When people asked “why,” I explained that I needed to be in Isabela to participate in a BMeg Fiestahan event in the town of Benito Soliven and I had to get back to Manila asap to host my daily show AGENDA on Cignal TV at 8 a.m. In a perfect world I could have done my online program from Isabela but, like many provinces, the place has weak signals and internet connectivity. So far, the DICT cannot seem to push for improvement of existing services and facilities, so we do without.

Getting to and from Isabela via air was also a challenge since there is only one Cebu Pacific flight a day that leaves NAIA to Isabela around 9:30 and flies back to NAIA mid-day. In fact, one of the veterinarians who came from Manila had to fly a day early and left a day later, causing him to be away for two-and-a-half days just to attend one afternoon event.

The other reason I decided to go by land was in order to get out of my “travel comfort zone” and reconnect with my old way of life and to be grounded. Yes, it would have been a lot easier to just fly but taking the bus brought me back to the days when I could barely afford the bus fare to go north. It was a sobering reminder of how ordinary Filipinos travel unmindful of personal space, or being shoulder-to-shoulder with a complete stranger, or putting up with the varied sounds from phones locked on TikTok videos.

I didn’t have to do it but, as they say, it was good medicine for the soul to experience such a long trip, seeing the reality on regular roads and not expressways, seeing the slow growth of provincial towns weirdly featuring upper class pizza places and bars in never heard gas stations. I even caught a glimpse of several “mini malls” you don’t see in Metro Manila but are apparently popping up in the provinces.

To be honest, the Victory Liner De Luxe bus is still a class above the rest, given the onboard toilet and freezing air conditioner. I don’t know if I was just unlucky but there was no featured film that I was hoping to distract me from the long boring 10-hour trip. I suppose the campaign against film piracy also has unintended collateral damage. Unlike the other buses dedicated for Baguio, the one I was on had wavy suspensions that made you feel you were in a boat.

Aside from getting “grounded,” my recent adventure made me realize that the best way for government officials to better appreciate and learn how to improve public transport and mobility across the Philippines is for Malacañang to pass an executive order or push for a law requiring all government officials holding the rank of bureau chief, director, assistant secretary, undersecretary, even Cabinet members to “RIDE THE BUS.” It has been proposed before and I humbly advise the officials to do it, even on their own time to get grounded and reconnected.

Whether it’s a tourist bus, inter-city bus in Metro Manila or to the different provinces, PBBM should require his officials to do so in order to understand how commuters really suffer, lose time as well as money because of the inefficiencies of public transport, as well as officials imposing First World practices on Third World realities.

The first thing officials will discover is that the public generally do not know where the bus terminal is, if there is one, and in many towns you simply stand along the highway with your luggage (some in the dark of night), hoping that the bus driver will actually stop for you. You would think that the DOTr, DILG, LTFRB and bus companies could set up designated safe spots where people can wait for the bus in the absence of terminals.

I also suspect that when the MMDA and the DOTr under Tugade prevented operations of bus terminals along EDSA, commuters simply shifted to UV Express vans and commuter vans. In order to get off at Cubao, I had to time my ride for a bus that would make it into EDSA before the ban.

When I went to the terminal in Cauayan, Isabela, I learned that buses, if you’re lucky, run by the hour. But you cannot bet on exactly what time of the hour the bus leaves. The place I took the bus from had a “list” or what passed as the schedule, literally on a piece of paper right next to a security guard who was very nice and helpful. BUT not on a blackboard, white board, etc. When we tried to book my ticket two days earlier, I was told that it was not allowed and that you can only buy from the conductor! God help the people traveling on Holy Week!

In this day and age when Filipinos are already doing most of their purchases online using E-banking, why has the LTFRB not managed to address this major inconvenience to commuters, such as no online booking and no online payments of tickets; the same goes for the MARINA. These also fall under the orders of PBBM for government agencies to digitalize their services and the bus/boat reservations are an extension of such.

To be fair to the people at the DOTr and the LTFRB and bus companies, a lot has improved in terms of frequencies and quality of buses as well as safety standards that bus drivers now observe, especially Victory Liner. But the basic need for predictability and convenience can easily be done if the government wants to – and they should.

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E-mail: [email protected]

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