MMDA told: 'Focus on commuter experience, not just travel time'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 13) — Traffic authorities shouldn't be too fixated on cutting car travel time in Metro Manila, lawmakers and commuter groups said as they insisted the premium is on daily commuting experience.

Lawmakers and transport groups renewed calls against the proposed provincial bus ban along the Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) during an inquiry of the Senate Committee on Public Services on Tuesday, with Senate President Tito Sotto calling the measure a "band-aid" solution to worsening Metro Manila traffic.

"As a primary concern, we should look at the commuter experience. Kapag traffic lang, baka maging short-sighted ang ating mga polisiya [If we only look at traffic, our policies could become short-sighted]," said Jedd Ugay of the Alt Mobility PH, stressing that the ordinary commuter will be burdened by additional fares, a longer wait, and multiple vehicle transfers.

"Kung travel time lang ang titingnan, para sa de-kotse, 'yun lang ang titingnan nila... Tingin ko, kung tatanggalin natin 'yung mga bus sa EDSA, kakainin lang nito ng pagdami ng mga bumibili ng private cars. Maybe in less than one year, magkakaroon tayo ng ginhawa pero papalitan 'yan ng bagong sasakyan."

[Translation: Car owners only only look at travel time... I think, if we remove buses along EDSA, the space will be taken up by private cars. Maybe in less than one year, we will have some relief but that will eventually be replaced by new cars.] 

The proposed bus ban was set to be rolled out this month until a Quezon City court stopped the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) from its implementation, siding with bus operators who sought intervention.

READ: Provincial bus ban dry run fails as operators snub trial

But MMDA General Manager Jojo Garcia said the bus ban will remove about 3,200 vehicles along EDSA's yellow lane, which would allow shorter trips for passengers.

Provincial buses comprise only about 1 percent of the entire EDSA traffic, which now averages 380,000 vehicles per day.

He added that the MMDA and LTFRB have formally appealed the court's preliminary injunction, convinced that plucking provincial buses off EDSA is a cure for congestion.

"Right now, the situation is Sta. Rosa to Cubao is about 3 hours. Kapag dinecongest natin ang yellow lane, baka ang biyahe from Sta. Rosa to Araneta (Cubao) is less than 2 hours. Kahit 30 minutes kang mag-waiting area, naglipat ka, maco-compensate nung speed," Garcia told senators during the three-hour committee hearing.

[Translation: If we decongest the yellow lane, trips from Sta. Rosa to Cubao is less than 2 hours. Even if you spend 30 minutes waiting, the speed compensates for it.]

LTFRB Chairman Martin Delgra III added that they are after the 97 provincial bus terminals scattered in the city, saying these need to be "rationalized."

But Ugay, a transport economist, said it was not the quick fix. If commuting became more convenient, he said car users will then be enticed to leave their vehicles at home and use public transport.

READ:  After provincial bus crackdown, MMDA to revive driver-only car ban along EDSA

Alex Yague, Jr., president of the Provincial Bus Operators Association, added that among their biggest concerns in using interim terminals is connectivity, as some passengers leaving or entering Metro Manila find it hard to get another ride to the capital.

To decongest EDSA, the plan requires buses from northern Luzon to drop off all passengers at a terminal in Valenzuela City, while commuters from the south will have to alight at a terminal in Sta. Rosa, Laguna or in Parañaque. From there, they will have to board a different bus or car to enter Manila.

Party-list groups which asked the Supreme Court to stop the bus ban also attended the hearing, including Ako Bicol and Bayan Muna representatives. They earlier argued that the new policy was anti-poor and anti-commuter.

Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin, Jr. lobbied for "window hours" for provincial buses to pass by EDSA. The MMDA said this has been included in the new rules released by LTFRB allowing these buses into the main thoroughfare during the off-peak hours of 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Committee chair Sen. Grace Poe said the panel will also review the MMDA's charter about its authority on traffic management, as they now tackle worsening traffic not just in Metro Manila but in the nearby provinces of Rizal, Laguna, and Cavite.

The lawmaker even dubbed the measure as "perverted," saying the public is left with fewer options to travel.

Poe also scored MMDA for the absence of its chairman Danilo Lim, who apparently attended a signing ceremony elsewhere.

Poe has set another hearing, where she asked the heads of MMDA, LTFRB, and Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade to present the country's transport master plan before the chamber.