Missing the point

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By Roberto P. Alabado III

Planning Perspectives

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


LAST week, there was a celebration of some sorts – Public Transportation Week. I really thought that finally – public transportation will now be given the attention it really deserves.

Maybe we will emulate the great cities of South America where public transportation week means that no private vehicles will be allowed in the downtown area only public utility vehicles and bicycles. Everyone will be encouraged to use the public transportation system. The transportation needs of the general public will be addressed in public fora and workshops so these can be incorporated in the city’s transportation plan.

Alas, upon seeing the activities, it was all just about drivers of jeepneys and tricycles. Whatever happened to the commuters?

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There were health checkups for the drivers because they are constantly exposed to the pollution of their own vehicles. Hmmmm… maybe the right solution will be to take out from the road those jeepneys and tricycles which have old and overworked engines that belch smoke and pollutants. Tricycles, for example, have their engines tested when they are not loaded with passengers so they pass the emissions test – now load the motorcycle with a heavy sidecar plus ten passengers then it will really emit pollutants because of an over-stressed engine.

Can we also have medical checkups for commuters who suffer from accidents caused by these public transportation vehicles? All we have to see are the records of hospitals on injuries and deaths of commuters who dared to ride uso-uso jeepneys that are still plying today. Speed limit violation apprehension is done only during daytime so speedsters still do their thing at night. The radar guns must be solar powered?

Affordable public transportation is a primary goal of every city but with the way things are going, public transportation is no longer a public service but is more of a means of livelihood for some drivers. Whenever fuel prices go up, drivers and operators are very quick to petition for an increase of fares but when fuel prices go down they are very slow to reduce the fares.

The welfare of the commuter to arrive at his/her destination safely and timely is forgotten once s/he has taken a seat. The drivers spend a lot of time waiting for passengers at the malls or stop at every person waiting by the road without giving consideration of their passengers’ time.

Our public transportation routes system according to the ADB Sustainable Urban Transportation Study last 2011 is a mess many with redundant routes. Many of these routes can be merged because they are actually traversing almost the same roads. Why am I not surprised with this finding? These routes were recommended and planned not by transportation planners but by the transport groups themselves without giving due consideration to the traffic situation and road capacity. LTFRB on the other hand has to go to Manila for their own transportation route assessments.

Some routes are confusing, for example, coming from the outskirts of the city some routes would enter the downtown area via Bolton Bridge then would exit via Bankerohan Bridge. Why can’t we have a system where commuters can get off on one side of the road then if going back to his/her original destination to just cross the road and ride the jeepney toward the opposite direction?

Road safety is always an issue when it comes to our public utility drivers. Many of our PUV drivers do not know how to interpret basic road signs and basic road right of way rules. Some of them actually cannot read. If only LTO can give them another drivers exam when they violate traffic laws then we really can find out if they obtained their licenses without an exam or by cheating.

Why am I being so hard on public utility drivers? It is because of the huge responsibility that they have towards the public. These drivers are responsible for the lives of hundreds of their passengers every day. These drivers ply the roads almost 10 hours a day and are exposed to hundreds of vehicles and thousands of pedestrians. Because of these, a driver of a public utility vehicle must have higher standards than an ordinary driver.
I know they carry a professional drivers license but what is that worth when I know of a person who has a drivers license but does not know how to drive or even start an engine… how about that blind person who was able to obtain a drivers license.

I hope that next year’s public transportation week will provide us with more relevant activities that will focus on commuters needs and on how to make commuting using the public transportation system more convenient, more accessible, safer and faster.

Let us debate on which is a better mass transportation system for our city - a bus rapid transit system or a light rail transit system, let us discuss about how can we design jeepneys and tricycles to be safer for commuters and more energy efficient so that they will not be drastically affected during fuel price hikes, let us plan the replacement of current stock with electric vehicles like e-jeepneys and e-trikes to reduce pollution in our city for the health of our commuters, let us dispute about strategies to improve the routes used by public transportation (maybe by easing out on-street parking along routes), let us deliberate upon separating the loading and unloading bays of different routes for the convenience of commuters as well as prevent jeepneys from blocking intersections.

Let us launch how-to-commute-safely campaigns in schools and market places, let us ban private vehicles from entering the downtown area even for just a day so everyone will use the public transportation system and bicycles (it would be great to see public servants commute like their voters).

Public transportation is not about the jeepney and tricycle drivers but about the masa, riding public, the commuters. rpalabado@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 15, 2014.

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