Mindanao needs a transport masterplan


John Tria John Tria

The recent meeting between the Mindanao Development Authority and the Department of Transportation is welcome news for many like me who travel and trade around the island.

There was a time when airports in Mindanao were limited by the sunset regulation which barred night flights. In the 1980s and 1990s, only Davao and Zamboanga airports, to my recollection, could operate in the evenings. For other cities, when flights were delayed, we would have to wait till next morning to leave for many destinations.

Many seaports did not have passenger terminals then, forcing passengers to wait in the open. Time was when many of us have had to resort to expensive van rentals or make do with makeshift, unreliable, even unsafe transport to reach locales off the main highways. Having buses reduced the need to resort to such means.

The last decade has seen improvements in intercity transport. Improved roads between Mindanao's growing cities resulting from the Build Build Build program made travel faster and safer, and reduced the threat of violence making travel a more empowering experience. Likewise, the night rating of many airports allowed passengers to fly in and out more frequently, facilitating trade and tourism as passenger volumes have increased substantially, making air travel a staple mode for many.

Nonetheless, further development of the overall transport setup is definitely desired to allow residents who live in far flung areas easier and more affordable access to city centers.

To be direct, Mindanao needs a wide ranging transport masterplan that integrates cargo and passenger transport, links airports and ports with city centers, provides lower cost logistics for farmers products to serve consumers far from the farm. This therefore creates cheaper means of travel, and more robust trade between provinces and their markets both within and outside the island.

That said, here are some notes and suggestions to these agencies as they embark on a long term effort to improve transport.

Route connectivity is a must, especially between different modes of transportation. Bus or rail connectivity between airports and seaports and city centers helps make travel easier and cheaper compared to taxis.

Access to the transport matters. One suggestion is the provision of online applications that allow seamless booking and prepayment of seats especially for those boarding buses along the routes. This will be a big help especially for senior citizens and persons with disability. Usage of prepaid transport cars also makes travelling simpler.

Mass transport options for Mindanao’s growing cities will also be advantageous to help lessen vehicular traffic on roads and city streets. This will lower the cost for visitors as well.

In the end, any transport masterplan needs to prioritize the majority: the users and consumers which will require safe, environmentally sustainable, reliable and affordable modes of transport. This will give the consumer choices for mobility. This will also lower the overall cost of living in Mindanao, making it attractive to migrants from Metro Manila, and visitors from many places to enjoy the diverse culture, attractions and food offered by Mindanao’s destinations.