Reforming public transport should be an urgent priority and must be added to the economic stimulus package to avert an impending transport and mobility crisis as Metro Manila prepares to transition from the lockdown, according to the private sector.
Jose Jerome Pascual III, president of the Financial Executives of the Philippines (FINEX), in a webinar on a potential public transport crisis said measures should be undertaken now to reform the public transport system and avoid a return to the “past intolerable traffic situation in Metro Manila,” while the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) is “giving us [this] opportunity before everyone gets back on the streets.”
Robert Siy, transportation adviser and development planner, added that an impending crisis in transportation also poses a threat to the economy, unless urgent solutions are applied to forestall it.
But he also expressed hope. “What we have today, although it looks somewhat dire, is the potential to transform what we have and take advantage of this opportunity,” Siy said.
He said many of the solutions they propose have been “very much in the game plan of the Department of Transportation” in recent years, such as consolidation, modernization, making public transportation networks and services more efficient, and promoting walking and cycling.
He underscored the need to make public transportation services one of the top priorities of the country. “We should not leave this out of any stimulus package that is being proposed now to our legislature.”
Siy said the impending crisis could come about when the quarantine is lifted as a result of a second wave of COVID-19 infections due to unmanaged queues and poor social distancing and sanitation, much longer commutes and job losses for those who can’t travel to their workplaces, and severe contraction in the transport industry as PUV operators shut down due to passenger capacity limits and increased sanitation costs.
The situation could be further aggravated by increased private vehicle use to avoid using mass transport, which could lead to heavier traffic congestion, said Siy.
All these portend dire prospects and huge economic losses unless decisive action is taken, he added.
To avert a transport crisis, Siy proposed actions such as making PUVs run more efficiently to compensate for the loss of transport capacity.
In many cases, he said, this means consolidation, organizing the services in a systematic way for higher efficiencies, and putting the PUVs on dedicated lanes or giving them their own corridors, separate from lanes for private cars.
Siy also underscored the need for improved infrastructure for public transport to raise capacity and efficiency, such as dedicated lanes and improved bus stops.
He also called for creating safe corridors for walking and cycling for commuters who can’t be accommodated on public transport and establishing bicycle sharing/lending programs and bike racks.
Siy said doing these will lead to huge benefits and returns, changing lives, improving commuter welfare, and reducing pollution and traffic congestion.
In the same webinar, Eduardo Yap, chairman of FINEX National Affairs Committee, called for reforms to the transportation system as the country transitions to a more normal social and economic situation.
“Don’t waste a crisis,” Yap said as he pressed for a “paradigm shift” in road allocation. This involves prioritizing space for mass transit, widening sidewalks, and installing bicycle lanes, while also giving less priority to low-occupancy vehicles.
Siy agreed, saying it is not about being against car ownership but about giving priority to a high-quality mass transport system.
He pointed out that only 12% of households in Metro Manila own cars while 88% rely on public transport, walking or cycling.
“The government has to consider that segment as the priority. We have to take decisions today for the greatest number and what is the greatest good. And that I think gives us perhaps the political will to push through some of these solutions which earlier were considered politically infeasible.”