Rebooting Metro Manila’s chaotic transport system

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FINEX Folio — By J. Albert Gamboa-125


“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” I first heard this line during the global financial crisis of 2008. In a media interview, it was stated by then US presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign manager Rahm Emanuel, who subsequently became the White House chief of staff and the mayor of Chicago.

Its variant — “Don’t waste a crisis” —has become the catchphrase of FINEX National Affairs Committee Chairman Eduardo Yap, who headlined a webinar on “Averting a Crisis in Public Transportation and Mobility” last week. His co-presentor was development economist and urban planner Dr. Robert Siy, who worked previously with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. They are part of Move Metro Manila, a coalition of advocates for sustainable mobility.

Dr. Siy said a mobility crisis looms because of massive job losses, longer commutes, and a severe contraction in the transport industry as operators shut down — adding to the overall economic decline. He warned about a second wave of COVID-19 infections due to unmanaged queues and poor compliance with distancing and sanitation requirements.

After the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is lifted, road-based public transport will have fewer passengers per trip since it is mostly perceived as having a higher risk of virus transmission. There would be pressure to shift to private motor vehicles for isolated travel, leading to heavier traffic congestion.

As a result, the annual cost to the Philippine economy will reach P523 billion per Dr. Siy’s estimate. His formula to avert a crisis in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, and other major cities consists of: P30 billion for the government to contract and pay transport operators over a six-month period to provide services initially in high-volume corridors; P10 billion for walking and cycling infrastructure as well as bike-sharing programs; and P70 billion for bus-only lanes, bus stops, depots, and terminals.


The second and third components jibe with Mr. Yap’s single bus scheme for Metro Manila’s main artery, EDSA, which will be transformed into a gentrified and tree-lined avenue. His proposed “busways” will have two lanes in each direction at EDSA’s median portion adjacent to the MRT-3 line. They would replace the ineffective yellow bus lanes and ensure an unimpeded flow for higher commuter throughput and optimized use.

Mr. Yap has obtained the commitment of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade to institute a better public bus transport service as the new normal. A dry run of the new EDSA busways is scheduled for next month and the initial platforms will be shifted to the center island after buses are fitted with left-side doors.

Other game-changing reforms outlined in Mr. Yap’s proposal include right-sizing bus fleets by rationalizing franchises and restructuring routes; constructing overhead bridges for passengers; and installing centralized management systems.

If these proposed changes are implemented in the near-term, EDSA’s infamous “carmaggedon” would become a thing of the past — along with its excessive exhaust emissions and unhealthy noise pollution that entailed high social costs.

In the southern part of Metro Manila, those under lockdown who need a ride to neighborhood groceries and other establishments are being served by an initiative called ParaHero, short for “Para sa Pasahero” or “for the passenger.”

Even before the imposition of ECQ, BF Homes residents in the cities of Parañaque and Las Piñas have been using the tricycle-hailing app pioneered by ParaHero in conjunction with tricycle operators and drivers associations (TODA) as well as homeowners associations in the Sucat and Bicutan areas.

When the government banned the operation of public utility vehicles last March, ParaHero was the first to address the displacement of tricyle drivers by training them to render delivery services in the suburban subdivisions. This was also intended to help residents avoid leaving their homes to purchase food and medicine, especially persons with disability and senior citizens in the community.

So far, 70 drivers from various TODAs have been re-skilled to become ParaHero riders delivering essential items ordered by villagers from three SM malls in Parañaque. The pabili coverage area will soon be expanded to serve residents within the radius of several SM malls in the City of Manila and eventually to 17 SMDC condominiums across Metro Manila.

According to ParaHero founder Nino Duque, he is forging partnerships with a logistics firm, an e-commerce site, and an agri-tech company while more riders are being trained to cover the wider jurisdiction. Such an initiative supports community-based retail businesses that are struggling to survive in this once-in-a-century pandemic. Hopefully other entrepreneurs would be encouraged to step up in providing solutions to the transport challenges of our time.


J. Albert Gamboa is CFO of Asian Center for Legal Excellence and chairman of FINEX Publications.