Mobility in the new normal Part 6 – The government’s PUJ strategy
STREET LIFE - Nigel Paul Villarete (The Freeman) - June 23, 2020 - 12:00am

The easiest path to normalizing our society in the post pandemic era, is to install better mobility policies, strategies, and systems.  That includes transportation systems, both motorized and non-motorized, and freight systems for goods and services.  As we have realized now, the future is marked by “physical distancing,” which I believe is the better term than “social distancing.”  In our last write-up, we opined that government should not stick to its convoluted strategy.

When the lockdown was imposed later part of March, our transport agencies should have started drawing up the blueprints of the systems to install when the lockdown it lifted.  This was a golden opportunity because most constructive activities we’re halted, and only a small portion of the workforce are actually devoted to pandemic response.  The “thinking” workforce, the planning divisions, were not heavily much engaged, and can work from home (WFH).  They could have drawn up the strategies and plans already, and ensure that when the lockdown is lifted, the transport systems are up and running.

The easiest part of devising new systems is the plans, the infrastructure and the moving parts; the hardest are the institutional and contractual arrangements, especially in public transport.  If everything was prepared, it would not have resulted to a shortage of services, with people left on the streets or fighting for available rides, or walking for kilometers to their work, on the first day and even until now.  All contractual and legal arrangements, including fare rates and systems, would have been readied, especially for the passengers who might have to learn the new ways.  Until now, some people can’t get rides because they don’t know anything about cashless payments.  And we had 2 months to advise them.

But the bigger issue to contend with was the decision not to allow the old “traditional” jeepney to return, in favor of buses and the modernized PUJ’s.  Now that was the plan in the first place, even before this pandemic struck.  And this corner agrees with the general intention, with a few contrary opinions on some aspects of its implementation.  We need to modernize.  More importantly, we need to shift to more efficient modes – bigger capacities, streamlined operations, better routing, scheduling, and fare systems.  The old jeepney has to evolve.

That was the plan, but social hurdles need to be addressed, and so the rollout needs to be timed. The pandemic opened an opportunity to short-cut the process, because public transport was stopped.  For two months!  What a better opportunity to push ahead with the PUJ modernization.  If it was planned well, in the last 2 months during the lockdown, with the new system up and running efficiently upon re-opening, it would have been a done deal.  But no, we lost the opportunity.  Government can still insist, convoluted as it may seem, to push it, at the expense of putting its poor citizens to daily suffering on the streets.  Or it can help its people by fielding the old jeepneys back and push back the modernization as originally planned.

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