Wenceslao: Modernizing the transport system

I AM critical of many of Tomas Osmeña’s actions as mayor but I agree with his views regarding the Duterte administration’s proposed modernization of public utility jeepneys’ (PUJ) operations and his plans for habal-habal drivers in Cebu City. Those views are in keeping with my stand that government’s policies must not be picked from thin air and should rather be based on what is happening on the ground.

This reminded me of my conversation with my ka-barangay Edwin Jagmoc when I met him in Fuente Osmena before he strode for the first time into the Cebu City Council years ago. Edwin was an urban poor leader and I shared with him some of my suggestions on how to deal with, say, sidewalk vending. I thought sidewalk vendors provided important services and should not be driven away. Rather, their service should be improved.

Nothing changed much in the way government has been dealing with sidewalk vendors since then, but I continue to hope it will pick my suggestion up.

Years before that, when Osmeña was a young mayor, the dynamism in his governance was observable. Some city officials went on trips abroad and when they came back attempted to copy here what they saw in other countries. At a time when trisikads and multicabs began to flood the streets, for example, one official insisted that this development should be stopped because the better option is to push for mass transport and bigger vehicles.

Modernization of the public transport system is good but policy makers must note that it is a process and could not be done artificially. Government can initiate projects like the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system but the bigger burden as far as answering to the needs of commuters is on the private sector. And what the private sector does is dependent on the economic situation at any given time.

Multicabs and trisikads proliferated since then because that was what investors could afford and these provide a cheap way to move people and goods in places not reached by regular transport networks, like urban poor communities and suburban areas. A few years later, the flooding of the market with cheap motorcycles allowed habal-habals, whose service was at that time limited to the hinterlands, to proliferate.

I have seen policy makers through the years whose pet peeves are the operation of PUJs, multicabs, habal-habals and trisikads (or in another aspect sidewalk vending). More often than not, these government officials ride on their classy vehicles or in taxis while commuting. Thus they don’t know the important service these modes of transport provide and how a big bulk of the masa relies on them.

Replacing old passenger jeepneys with new ones is good but if this means the considerable shrinking of the number of units servicing the streets, then that would be bad for ordinary commuters. Affordability of new vehicles is also an issue especially for the bigger number of small operators struggling to survive.

Again, my hope is that policy makers would immerse themselves in the target sector or sectors, do research and study well the situation on the ground before proposing drastic changes in the setup.
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