Numbers Don’t Lie

I was happy and rather optimistic when the Department of Transportation (DoTr) announced that it had rationalized bus routes and would establish dedicated bus lanes along the interior of EDSA.

Studies have proven that dedicated bus lanes are more effective if they take the inner lanes rather than the outer lanes. Not only does it prevent the indiscriminate loading/unloading of passengers, it leaves bus drivers no opportunity to swerve across lanes to jockey for passengers. Best of all, it provides commuters with faster travel times between stops.

This program is a collaboration between the DoTr and the MMDA. The former is the proponent of the program while the latter is responsible for implementing the new traffic system on EDSA.

Efficient cities like London, Vancouver and Seoul use the interior lanes of their highways as dedicated bus lanes while cities less-organized like Lagos, Matapu, and Lahore use the exterior. With DoTr’s plan, Manila is taking the steps towards the right direction.

The first phase of the program started three weeks ago with only point-to-point (P2P) buses plying EDSA’s inner lanes. Regular buses are due to follow this week.

Unfortunately, even at this early stage, the program is already failing. No surprise, it is the errant (or shall I say, pasaway) ways of government officials that is consigning the project to failure. Since the inner lanes of EDSA have been made free and clear of private vehicles, senators, congressmen, and members of the cabinet have begun using it as their private expressway. Escorted by a highway patrol cop, no less, these politicians bulldoze their way through the dedicated bus lane with no regard for the new rules. And since a precedent has been set, even police and military vehicles have started using the lanes too. It has become the expressway for anyone associated with the government. Meanwhile, the MMDA sits idly allowing the violation to happen.

This scenario is wrong on many levels.

On the part of the political elite, it shows that beneath their rhetoric of being public servants, they are abusive opportunists whose sense of entitlement is sickening. They bully their way through our roads with their sirens and police caravans demanding that private citizens clear the way for their unobstructed passage. They are shameless and bullies, this way. It is as if their trip is more important than ours. They forget that it is us, the private citizens, who make this economy tick. Our taxes that pay for their salaries and every privilege they enjoy.

It must also be said that these political elite, their mistresses and children, have no right to use the highway patrol as their personal escorts. The salaries of these cops and the motorcycles they ride on are paid for by the people’s taxes and as such, are public assets. To use them for personal convenience is an abuse of privilege. Sadly, Director of the High Patrol, Brigadier General Eliseo Cruz allows it. Apparently he is one who panders to politicians. How disappointing. Just because this has been the practice since time immemorial does not make it right.

Entitled politicians hide behind heavily tinted windows for fear of being discovered. I say, if they have the audacity to bulldoze regular motorists on the roads, then they should also have the courage to plaster their names on their vehicle or at least show their faces. Fair is fair. You cannot be abusive and be anonymous at the same time. To hide behind tinted windows is being a coward.

On the part of the MMDA, the fact that it condones the traffic violations of government officials proves that it enforces the law selectively. It considers the political elite as its true bosses, not the tax paying public whom it swore to serve. Its proclivity to make exceptions to rules is why many of its traffic mitigation programs are failures.

All these are a reflection of the culture of privilege this administration perpetuates. In this government, it is perfectly acceptable for colleagues, friends, and allies to break the law — but woe to Juan de la Cruz if he happens to commit a legal offense. On him shall befall the full brunt of punitive consequences.

This government’s penchant for patronage has been displayed too many times that it can no longer be denied. Fresh in our memories is how political allies Koko Pimentel and Major General Debold Sinas were “pardoned” by Malacañang after violating quarantine rules. Evidently, not all Filipinos are equal in the eyes of Malacañang.

The reason why I take this issue seriously is because for the first time, we have a viable program to finally solve our public transportation conundrum.

Many may not be aware that the dedicated bus lanes in the interior of EDSA is a potential first step in a three-phase plan that will allow us to break free from the PUV franchise system and evolve into a performance contract system. The latter is the same system adopted by Seoul and London to great success.

Assuming the dedicated bus lanes program succeeds, the government can graduate to phase two. In this phase, the government can venture to lease all 8,000 buses in Metro Manila from their operators at a rate equivalent to their daily boundaries. With buses under government control, the state can regulate their capacities, safety protocols, routes, fares and emission levels. It can calibrate routes and schedules with greater predictability and reliability. It can control the road worthiness (safety) of the vehicles and their cleanliness. All revenues derived from PUV operators go to the government. As such, it can hire the drivers directly and provide them with fixed salaries and benefits, not commissions.

Phase three involves migrating to a performance contract system. This is a system wherein the government awards only a handful of transport operators the right to operate certain routes. They are vetted, through public bidding, based on their ability to deliver the most efficient transport services at the highest standards and the lowest price. Government receives all the revenues for public transport and is the one that pays the transport operators a predetermined fee. Transport contracts are renewed every two years so if a particular operator has a bad on-time or safety record, that operator can immediately be replaced.

As you can tell, there is a lot riding on this dedicated bus lane program. This is why we cannot allow entitled politicians to sabotage this project. I can only hope that the strong, moral hand of Secretary Tugade can put his colleagues in government in place.


Andrew J. Masigan is an economist.