At 7 o’clock in the morning on Monday, July 4, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista was on his way to attend the flag-raising ceremony at the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). He saw long lines of commuters waiting for their ride at one of the loading platforms of the EDSA bus carousel. ABS-CBN news reporter Jacque Manabat quotes him on a Twitter post:
“7 o’clock kanina nakita ko ang napakahabang pila ng mga mananakay natin and I don’t think the status quo is acceptable to the President. (PAL was) voted as most improved airline in the world in 2019. Iyan po ang aking inspirasyon at gagamitin ko po ang aking experience para mapaganda natin ang transport system hindi lang sa air, land, rail at sa sea.”
EDSA is known to be the densest traffic corridor in the country. As estimated by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), more than 400,000 vehicles use EDSA daily, or nearly 40 percent higher than the original capacity of 288,000 vehicles per day. As a north-south circumferential road, it extends from Balintawak in Caloocan City to Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City covering the cities of Mandaluyong, Makati and Pasay. Economic losses from traffic congestion at EDSA have grown to ₱3.5 billion a day, according to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
To its credit, the Duterte administration completed several vital infrastructure projects aimed at expanding options for travelling in Metro Manila given the continued growth of population and the transition to a new normal scenario in terms of people mobility. Most notable of these is the completion of the stage 3 Metro Manila Skyway project that has cut down travel time from Makati to Quezon City from more than an hour to less than 20 minutes.
However, as noted by Robert Siy, a city and regional planner and public transport advocate, “the new road and bridge infrastructure prioritized private motor vehicles over other travel modes — such as walking, cycling and public transportation.” This contrasts with the National Transportation Policy, adopted in 2017, that clearly prioritizes people mobility over vehicle mobility.
A novel solution was adopted in June 2020, after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic: the inception of the EDSA Busway System Transportation as directed by Secretary Arthur Tugade and with the support of Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Danilo Lim. The busway proposal came from the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) Infrastructure Committee led by Eduardo H. Yap.
The dedicated bus lanes on EDSA were moved from the outermost to the center lanes and separated by concrete barriers from the lanes used by private vehicles. Commuters used the MRT-3 overhead crossing facilities to access the buses at ground level.
As reported by public transport advocate Eddie Yap, total busway ridership from June to December 2020 was 9,088,482 or a daily average of 50,492. In 2021, there were 47,104,197 riders or an average of 129,052 daily riders. For the six-month period January to June 2022, the daily average went up to 191,951 riders, as total ridership climbed up to 34,551,095.
Faster point to point travel time has been achieved: EDSA Monumento to Ayala Avenue, Makati – 40 minutes; EDSA/North Avenue to Ayala/Makati – 25 minutes; and Monumento to PTIX Terminal in Parañaque – less than one hour.
Proof of concept has been sufficiently established; high patronage affirms the commuters’ vote of approval. The EDSA busway is modeling itself after Indonesia’s Trans-Jakarta Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System and the Guangzhou BRT in China that is regarded as the “gold standard.”
Establishing more busway stations that are passenger-friendly is being pursued by its proponents. A model busway station for EDSA Guadalupe, a high-volume transit point, has been designed. Private sector benefactors had firmed up their commitment to provide funding and a ceremonial ground-breaking program was held in November 2021. Alas and alack, the proposal is still awaiting government approval.
The continuing lack of mass public transportation has perpetuated the long-lamented EDSA traffic and travel conundrum. Secretary Bautista has framed his mission in the context of elevating the country’s public transportation system to global standards – just as he steered Philippine Airlines toward attaining the World’s Most Improved Airline Award in 2019. PAL was cited “as the carrier that achieved the biggest leap in product and service quality among a survey of over 350 leading airlines worldwide.”
He has also declared proactively his view that “the status quo is unacceptable to the President.” Hence, he has expressed his determination to do what is needed to institute needed reforms and changes that would ease the daily burden of tens of thousands of daily commuters. Robust support from the MMDA and all the concerned local governments is crucial.
In his inaugural address, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. declared to the Filipino people:
“But again, I will not predicate my promise to you on your cooperation. You have your own lives to live. Your work to do and there too I will help. Government will get as much done alone without requiring more from you. That is what government and public officials are for. No excuses. Just deliver.”