THE INSIDE MAN

A Message of Hope for EDSA

A Message of Hope for EDSA image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: | posted October 26, 2011 11:38

Hope for EDSA and the Public-Private Partnership

We applaud the purpose of the government to set specifications and guidelines so that PPP (Public-Private Partnership) projects have a strict template with minimal discretion so that it won't be prone to corruptible manipulation, though the stall has caused great damage to economic growth. Still, the government should recognize that the initiative of the private sector was the one that kept the "fire burning" during the past year's infrastructure investment freeze. Citra, builders of the Skyway has been putting together the C-6 Skyway stage 01 from Bicutan FTI to Marcos Highway Marikina with Stage 02 to continue to Meycauayan-Marilao in Bulacan passing through Montalban. Metro Pacific Tollways, will extend the NLEx westward from the new Mindanao Ave. cloverleaf to reach Maysan, Valenzuela and south to C-3. These new expressways are far better alternatives today than disrupting EDSA traffic with the grand EDSA Skyway/Smart tunnel proposal.

At least the government has consolidated all that jumble of expressway segments that cross Luzon into an integrated plan now named the North Luzon West Expressway consisting of the SFEx, SCTEx and TPLEx and the North Luzon East Expressway consisting of the NLEx, the proposed Central Luzon Expressway and the Nueva Ecija Aurora Expressway. For the near term, we eagerly await toll collection integration of the Metro-Pacific Tollways run NLEx, SCTEx and SFEx which should eliminate the Angeles NLEx toll plaza and the Mabalacat SCTEx toll plaza.

In this light, it would be wise to revisit DOTC Sec. Roxas' proposal to modify the PPP in favor of government building the infrastructure and franchising out the operations and maintenance to the private sector. The claimed advantages are that the fares or tolls would be pro consumer and that government can borrow at lower interest rates. But we have such a poor example of this: the STAR Tollway where government built the expressway but throttled the toll rates to pro-consumer rates. Compare the STAR Tollway with the MTD's privately funded new ACTEx and it would give pro-consumer a bad name as a recipe for anti-business investment.

As for lower interest rate long term borrowing, we have national debt ceilings to deal with unless Bangko Sentral pays off all its high interest foreign loans and start lending to the National government at low global interests from its rising stock of International Reserves.

Government has consistently shown dismal performance in running public utilities. The MRT-LRT is best run as a private franchise which includes privately massive investment in physical plant and fixed assets as was the full intent of the BOT.

Back to more immediate concerns, i.e. the coming 2011 Christmas traffic rush: after hundreds of Friday nights suffering the perpetually knotted traffic on EDSA Cubao's bus terminals, the MMDA installed an effective concrete barrier and mesh fence combination to prevent jaywalking passengers from buses and taxis "swerving" from the EDSA Cubao underpass to the service road. Hopefully this also discourages the resident rugby sniffing groupies that hover around the area under the MRT guideways. Hopefully the world's longest pre-Christmas season traffic leaves less opportunity for misbehaving bus drivers. Still, the sooner all those bus terminals relocate out of Cubao, the better for all of us.

Unfortunately, jaywalking and illegal crossing by bikes and trikes continue to plague the Balintawak EDSA LRT-1 station and the EDSA-Congressional-Roosevelt crossing as the barriers are always either displaced or destroyed by vandals.

The INTERAKSYON MMDA/TV 5 Traffic Navigator (TNAV) website has been very effective in monitoring traffic flows on the Metro's main routes. Checked on a regular basis, one will also see how hopelessly congested C-5 from Taguig to Libis every evening and almost the whole night on Friday. Virtually crawling traffic every night on EDSA's Buendia to Ortigas section makes it keep its reputation as the world's longest bus stop. View the perpetually congested Santolan-Ortigas area on a regular basis and one will see that it is in dire need of a radical traffic plan. Meantime, we await the long term results of the effectivity of the "Motorsiklo Lane" in taming the unruly 2-wheeled riders now being tested on a couple of major avenues.

We are in full agreement with the MMDA's published list of bus companies that have topped the record accident and reckless driving statistics. Since being a licensed driver in 1976, we are on EDSA 4 times a day, two of them at peak hour periods. Indeed the drivers of those bus companies are notorious for flagrant reckless driving, sweeping and swerving through all 5 lanes, slamming on the brakes at the last few seconds at every loading bay. Its easy to profile their hooligan behavior: they are always pumping the gas pedal as if it gives a turbo boost to their racy image. These bullies blow their supercharged horns at every bus queue on EDSA Ayala, EDSA Shaw, EDSA Ortigas and EDSA Cubao. They align their buses askew with lane markings every time they load and unload fares. They always stop and charge through private car lanes at every entry of an underpass or on-ramp of an overpass.

For one reason or another, these recklessly driven buses are non-aircon. Most of the new CBU air-con buses on the street today are from China or reconditioned buses from Japan. They left the factory as buses and are thus fitted with the safety equipment and speed governors. These buses are meant to be driven on single lane bus routes. They were not designed to be driven like in the speedsters' cult film series "The Fast and the Furious". But many of the non-air con buses are actually truck chassis fitted with locally made bus bodies. Since these trucks are kit assembled, they do not have the speed governors that prevent bus drivers from driving like they were on a drag strip.

Monitoring reckless driving on crowded urban highways is difficult by foot patrols. The CCTV cameras only covers a short span and not enough footage can be generated to prove reckless driving and lane weaving. In practice, mobile patrols of motorcycles or pick ups that shadow reckless driving are the only way to go, short of deploying aircraft patrols. The areas where these bus drivers turn crazy, especially at night, are on the long stretches of EDSA from Santolan to Ortigas and from Shaw to Buendia. If the MMDA gives these areas an intense study, especially during the off-peak hours, it will surely validate their published list of bus companies with the most reckless drivers.

Through the decades, the city bus operators have proven that whatever program and funding the government and private sector provide them, their buccaneer/mom-pop ways continue and does not incentivize them to police their own ranks. Thus, they have massively failed to serve the public's safety. Which calls for a big business take over the transportation grid. It need not be the government for all it has to do is to set a high pro-passenger standard and franchise the Metro area the way NAWASA franchised its water service zones. Welcome well-capitalized foreign transport companies so that the displaced bus drivers have a chance to reform in the new transport scheme, earning a decent salary with insurance and benefits for so long as they pass the still-born proposal of ex-DOTC Sec. Ping de Jesus to get them trained by TESDA. Ultimately, deregulating transport fares, like energy prices and telecoms, is the only way to ensure quality public service and market driven subsidy-free pricing.