It’s a sad reality that the poor are the ones who suffer most with the severe lack of public transportation due to the necessary restrictions imposed to protect public health amid the coronavirus crisis.
The suffering of those who don’t have their own vehicles, or the means to buy even a second-hand bicycle they can use to travel, can be more painful if they feel that newly-imposed policies are there to add more misery as they face the daily challenge of having to go to work and earn a living.
And the misery can be even more infuriating when they feel that they are groping in the dark, without any idea on what exactly the new policies are and the logic behind them, or why they have to undergo hardships that are seemingly needless.
Thus, it was a very enlightening discussion I had with General Manager Jojo Garcia of the Metro Manila Development Authority last July 5 when he was my online guest in my Teleradyo program Sagot Ko ‘Yan. Why the bus “carousel” along Edsa? Why do these buses have to use the left innermost lane? Why the shortened routes in other areas of Metro Manila using modern jeepneys? Our discussion elicited answers to so many other questions.
GM Garcia started by repeatedly stressing health and safety as top priority in the current adjustments to the system of public transport being implemented gradually in Metro Manila to enable commuters to travel more quickly than before when vehicular traffic was terrible.
He explained that to attain efficiency, the more than 80 bus routes throughout the National Capital Region have been reduced to just 31 routes with the carousel system. For Edsa, around 550 buses are set to be deployed gradually, instead of the 3,600 buses plying the main thoroughfare previously – the major cause of traffic due to congestion.
The carousel buses are there to augment the services of MRT with its reduced passenger capacity due to physical distancing. The reason why the dedicated lane for buses at Edsa, from Quezon Avenue to Estrella St. in Makati, has been transferred from the right outer lane to the left innermost lane is to ensure smooth flow which cannot be attained in the previous setup where obstructions, like vehicles turning right, hampered traffic flow.
With the dedicated lane and reduced number of buses, travel will be faster and turnaround would be quicker. But the Edsa bus system, GM Garcia pointed out, is still what he called “hybrid” because from Monumento to Quezon Avenue, the buses would travel at the right lane, then shift to the left dedicated lane up to Estrella St. before going back to the right outer lane all the way to Mall of Asia.
Infrastructure challenges currently prevent the left side dedicated bus lane from starting at Monumento all the way to MoA. Eventually, it could cover the whole stretch of Edsa, considering that MMDA chairman Danilo Lim said in a July 1 press briefing that they’re eyeing to move passenger doors of Edsa buses to the left side. (But those opposed to such idea said the structural integrity of the buses would be affected and manufacturer’s warranty would be voided.)
GM Garcia said that from Timog to Santolan where there can be no loading and unloading bays at the dedicated lane due to the flyover, the plan is for modern jeepneys to take over that stretch to ensure continuity.
As to why the shortened routes for public transport in other areas of Metro Manila, he said the jeepneys using the carousel system could travel faster, have quicker turnaround and still be viable even with reduced passenger capacity – unlike before when too many jeepneys along long routes caused traffic jams while waiting for passengers.
With all the adjustments in the new normal, the ideal scenario is for people to be seen walking on the sidewalks to designated loading bays where they would wait in line to get a ride, Garcia said. Such would be in stark contrast to pre-pandemic times when commuters clogged the streets while waiting for their ride.
The MMDA’s transport program for the new normal might be the best so far, but full support of commuters would be difficult to attain without sufficient information disseminated to the public. Communication should always be a major component of a program. If people know the purpose or logic behind the new policy which entails more walking, they would not mind sacrificing a bit more to ensure success of the program.