Mobility in the new normal
STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul Villarete (The Freeman) - June 16, 2020 - 12:00am

PART 4 – The farebox balance

The natural result of social distancing on public transportation is the reduction of capacity, for the vehicles first, and for the system as a whole. In the case of the present jeepneys in Cebu, this would mean leaving one seat empty for every seat occupied. This translates to roughly a 50% reduction. However, it seems the policy was not to allow the traditional jeepneys to return but force the issue on the shift to higher capacity vehicles instead.  Which is to say, replace the jeepneys with buses and modernized PUJs.

While this is technically in the right direction and should be the one public transportation in Cebu should have as a long-term goal, the abrupt entry of the pandemic has been seen as a way to shortcut the plan.  Shifting of public transportation, especially with respect to vehicle changes is always a hard and difficult process, socially and politically.  Maybe, this was seen as an opportunity - it is something considered in the right direction, anyway.  But abrupt changes like this require thorough preparation to execute, failure of which will result to a widespread breakdown in the entire system.

Which is basically what happened when the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was lifted and raised to the General Community Quarantine (GCQ), where around 50% of the businesses were allowed to open.  This generated a deluge of home-work-trips which were not served by the few buses and modernized PUJs fielded.  In the first place, the tri-cities of Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu, are not by any means “small” communities.  As a result, people waited and walked, most could not even reach their workplaces.  There is simply not enough supply to start off with.

And the old jeepneys were not allowed to ply their routes.  But even if they were, there is still the question of how many will decide to operate.  Fares were increased from P9 to P11, but capacities were reduced by half.  No amount of calculation will make it worth the while to run the routes.  Most jeepneys operate under the boundary system, and the daily limits are the bigger component of the operational costs.  Even with lower fuel costs, which is even rising nowadays, the fare increases of less than 20% will eat up all of the driver’s margins.

What were not considered in the analyses are the nuances of the financial and economic costs as compared to the financial revenues and economic benefits.  Regardless of the circumstances, Covid-19 or not, public transport always generates a robust economic stream for the country and the society which makes it attractive and even crucial.  So high are the economic benefits that public transportation is always good to be subsidized.  All the rail transport in Metro Manila is subsidized, the buses and the jeepneys are not.  Unless we allow and even welcome subsidizing public transport, we will always be at the receiving end of poor, inefficient, and inadequate mobility.  And it’s the poor who suffers the most. (To be continued)

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