The Future of Public Transport

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The Chinese word character for “crises” combines two figures – one denoting “chaos” and the other one, “opportunity.” Considering that we are now in the midst of the COVID 19 crisis that has reached 16 million positive cases worldwide and climbing, it is perhaps opportune to envision a future for public transportation in the Philippines that is not only practical and economical for the common man but also sustainable in terms of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

It is in this context that the House of Representatives last July 23,  conducted a joint hearing of the  Committees on Transportation and Economic Affairs where the Department of Transportation (DOTr) presented some of its proposed reforms to solve the ongoing public transport crisis in the country. Included in DOTr’s proposals to address the public transportation shortage are the implementation of service contracting and the establishment of bicycle lanes. Under service contracting, the government would enter into contracts with the bus and jeepney operators for their service, and operators and drivers are paid depending on the number of kilometers traversed by the PUV serving an identified route. The inclusion of bicycle lanes for expansion and new construction is an advocacy which had been discussed previously in this column and we welcome the DOTr’s acknowledgement of this concern that many of our countrymen have been urging for the national government to act. 

In that congressional hearing, DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade was quoted  as saying that these interventions would be critical to address the current supply shortage. “Kaya po tayo mayroong service contracting. Kaya po tayo mayroong bisikleta. Lahat ito, samu’t saring mga patakaran na isasama mo sa basket of solutions na hopefully maiibsan ang problema,” he said. (This is why we have service contracting. This is why we have bicycles. All of these proposals are part of the basket of solutions that will hopefully address the problem.) Moreover, “Service contracting is proposed to guarantee the efficiency of road-based public transport while maintaining the financial viability of the operators. This encourages the continuous operation that is not dependent on the number of passengers, fare, or income,” said DOTr Assistant Secretary Steve Pastor.

Dr. Robert Siy Jr. of #MoveAsOne who was in the hearing expressed his group’s support for the DOTr for publicly endorsing service contracting. He said that this is one of the main components of #MoveAsOne’s Biyahenihan proposal, where they propose to allocate a PhP30 billion budget to contract out PUV operators. The coalition also thanked DOTr for pushing for other interventions such as the establishment of dedicated bicycle lanes, as well as PUV-only lanes to improve mobility in the country. 

“We want to acknowledge and commend DOTr on some of the initiatives they announced today. We are very happy to hear their endorsement of service contracting and their advocacy for the use of bicycles and the promotion of bicycle lanes. We also want to commend DOTr for their push for PUV-only lanes as exemplified by the EDSA bus lanes,” he emphasized.  #MoveAsOne is a broad civil society organization of 138 organizations and 75,000 individuals who are pushing for a PhP 110 billion “Biyahenihan” investment over three years to pandemic-proof our public transport system. 

Recall that years before this pandemic, there have already been a lot of discussion on the need to put our public transport in order and speed up the traffic by addressing the issue of our buses /jeepneys and their drivers who are wont to bully through our streets as they hustle for riders since their take-home pay is based primarily as a percentage of their daily earnings. The result is chaos in our roads as public vehicles crowd each other and private vehicles as they hog the streets and  park interminably and/or stop wherever they choose. The solution bruited about then was to make them salaried employees with a basic income that they can take home and thus make it practical to follow all the road rules and regulations without fear of missing their quota of passenger volume.  

As the MoveAsOne Coalition puts it:  “Service contracting, either by national or local government units, helps ensure safe, sufficient, and stable public transportation services. In the absence of service contracting, there is no way for the government to control the supply of public transportation. Some operators will suffer losses and decide to stop services. There is also the risk of overcrowding of vehicles—if commuters compete for scarce transport supply or if operators try increasing revenues by chasing after passengers. An unstable transport supply introduces a major health risk. Therefore, service contracting is a tool to ensure that transportation is adequate while not increasing the risk of infecting the citizenry.”

So here we are, with public transportation still in limbo but there is also the opportunity to start afresh with new ideas that will help the ordinary commuter and preserve our environment in the long run. Once again, we reiterate our call for our national agencies to provide more bicycle lanes to protect and encourage our workers, students, employees, etc., who might feel it safer to travel by bicycle with the virus pretty much in the air (specially enclosed spaces such as MRT, buses and jeepneys). And if the jeepneys and buses are again allowed to operate freely; for service contracting to be introduced and tested widely so see the impact that this new arrangement could have in the lives of our drivers and operators, but more so to the commuting public.  

The author may be reached at [email protected]

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