THE INSIDE MAN

The Love Bus returns

The Love Bus returns image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: courtesy of Spanky Enriquez | posted May 11, 2015 15:53

Reprise: Government owned bus companies

Real public transportation

EDSA, the nation's alphabet soup of memories. Our pet 4-letter acronym is also synonymous to various colorful attempts to solve national problems, besides traffic. Chocolate boys, yellow lane, pink fences, alternating bus stops, odd-even, color coding, zipper lane, “Li-Kuan-U” [U-turn slots], flyovers, no-plate-no-travel, truck ban, motorsiklo lane, with the most recent being express buses from Fairview to Makati CBD and SM MOA, with no stops in between. What about ideas from the Marcos era, like zone-based bus fares and government owned and run bus companies?

MMTC

The recent introduction of the Express Connect Bus brought to mind the Metro Manila Transit Corporation, specifically Mdme. Imelda R. Marcos's Love Bus. Though the express limited stop express route isn't entirely novel, it raises some expectations. What if the DoTC gets its homework right [not usually a sure thing], there's a chance that another state-owned public transport company can exercise an influential role in people moving in our crowded cities. And why not? We've got the government tenaciously holding on to and heavily subsidizing the MRT-3, it would seem, at all cost. It continuously controls LRT-1 and LRT-2 although it is trying to transfer O&M to the private sector via the PPP. Corruption? Well we live in the age of “Daang Matuwid”, don't we? Government inefficiency in commercial profit oriented endeavors? That's where the private sector comes in.

Not another bus company

To be clear, the new government owned public transport company is envisioned to be like TfL [Transport for London] involved in network planning, route planning, carrier allocation, etc – presumably coordinated with the LTFRB. Hence, it will be like the state owned regulating oligopolies like the PNCC, PNR, MWSS and NAPOCOR-PSALM, who supervise, regulate and inspect their franchisees and manage contracts of such private sector providers. So looks like it won't be a bus company like the old MMTC. The Legislature, wisely cautioned the DoTC to study this plan thoroughly and to integrate it into a master plan for public transportation for a so-called mobility law.

Priority protect the commuter/consumer

At this stage, it would be fortuitous to dream of this publicly funded transport company. How we all wish this entity becomes an eagle-eyed watchdog for consumer safety, convenience and satisfaction, doubled with environmental conformity and traffic/energy efficiency. Just like its peers abroad.

Start with BRT

Ideally, we can get the ball rolling by having this public transport company adopt the roll out of a high capital outlay BRT [Bus Rapid Transit] which costs much more to start-up than any mere provincial bus fleet and terminal system. Look at how long Cebu's BRT languished on the planning stage.

Out with old, in with the new

This opens up the opportunity to try new systems and apply age old systems that the piratical cut-throat PUV franchisees refuse to adopt; like -the regular salary and law mandated benefits for drivers, including overtime and night differential; no more commission basis. Everything from people interface, intermodal efficiency, hardware, collection systems, etc. is up for grabs.

Transporting, collecting, keeping cool

Starting with the BRT, the DoTC can begin by splitting the franchise into a transport component and a collection component. The transport component franchisee provides the passenger vehicles and their drivers. The government pays the transport company to run the BRT on a set route, in exchange for prompt arrival and departure at designated stops, set deployment of bendy [articulated single decker] buses and double decker buses, dispatch adjusted for peak and off-peak travel. The private sector bus operations franchisee is obligated to serve all stops and ensure that in-bus temperatures stay between 23 to 25 degrees Cº, necessitating air conditioning for all units anywhere in the Philippines. If the temp rises to 29 degrees C, then fare refunds are triggered. The buses should never be crowded beyond stated capacity. Drivers are duty-bound to follow the dispatch schedule and keep his customers/fares comfortable and safe at all times. Like a tram on pneumatic tires instead of rails, the BRT can run on electricity by overhead catenary system. The power system should be run ideally by a power utility who then charges the BRT a flat rate per vehicle used.

PPP opportunity

For ease of administration, the fare collection contract should be bided out to a private company. Criteria is ease of collection without long waits Government will set the fares – so it can determine the cost of subsidizing fares if it wants too, without any pressure to make a profit - while the collector franchisee does the collection for a set paid contract amount per day.

Single fare system

Ideally, the BRT should run on a single fare basis and there should be zonal charging as one leaves the Metro to go out into suburbia. For example, the BRT runs from MOA to Harbor Centre via R-1, C-3, EDSA. Fare, end to end is 30PHP total, whether the commuter gets on at Harbor Centre and gets off at Monumento. If he continues his journey later on the day up to Buendia, he will be considered paid. Even all the way to MOA, he is considered paid. It is when he changes direction, like Monumento back to Harbor Center must he pay another 30PHP fare. The object is to keep the short distance commuter's fare similar to the short distance motorist. Short distances provides the worst fuel consumption as he/she pays a premium/penalty for opting not to walk [unpleasant weather] or is in a hurry to get to destinations nearby. Then a zonal fare system will apply for routes that go beyond the Metro. For instance, if the commuter wants to go further south from MOA to Cavite which is serviced by the same BRT line, then a an additional single flat fare needs to be paid.

Cashless bus fare

Transactions will all be cashless. No one can board the BRT without an RFID tag, which can be purchased all over, like SIM Cards and reloading stations for mobile phones. This RFID tag, similar to Easy Drive used on CAVITEX or some parking buildings, can be loaded or topped up by ATM, mobile phone cash transfer, electronic banking by wi-fi internet and transfers from other RFIDs. Upon entering the bus by the front door, a reader detects the RFID tag, deducts the fare, before mini turnstile withdraws the barrier, allows entry to the commuter. This also signals the conductor's monitoring device, that a commuter has entered and paid the correct fare. Also exiting passengers through the rear door will use the RFID tags to open the barrier and door. Collections would be performed by conductors who will have hand held electronic modules like those used by rental car agencies and FedEx delivery personnel. These hand held devices can identify accredited RFID debit/credit devices, while the actual passenger count and collection is done by the bus's computer uploaded to the Cloud and downloaded to the conductor's module. With such a system, the BRT will still be able to allow the traditional cash based commuter to opt for the competing existing multi-stop PUV set-up.

Legal counterflow, loading and unloading

This early, the authorities should decide if the BRT is to run on all pneumatic tires or steel wheels on rail tramways. Also, should it copy the dedicated high curb bus stops of Latin America to prevent regular buses from using BRT platforms? Should the BRT route go counterflow to regular traffic where passenger pick up is always curbside? Hence the need for right hand drive buses with passenger entry and exit doors on the off side of RHD. Also the BRT can allow more than one contracted bus provider on the same route, though such bus providers should meet minimum paid in capital requirements, minimum fleet size, BRT approved livery and vehicle, BRT compatible propulsion, etc.

PHILTRAK's time has come

For quickie implementation, we already have the PHILTRAK system which was already invented locally in the mid-Eighties. The PHILTRAK system predated what is now called the BRT, which was globally popularized in the late 90s by the positive experience of Curitiba and Bogota's municipality owned bus company. PHILTRAK is all Filipino. Initially rejected by the Cory administration DoTC, it was approved for implementation by the ERAP administration, but its financiers were felled by the Asian Crisis. PHILTRAK, for the past four yeas, applied to create a BRT for the reclaimed area in Manila Bay but is still in limbo as, again, like during Cory's term, BRT is still poorly understood in Manila vs. Cebu's foreign funded BRT or BRT practice in Thailand, Mexico and Washington State USA.

Let's just move it

Barring any glitches in the overall mobility law master plan, the resurrection of an MMTC in the form of a franchise regulator/distributor for BRT and PUVs, is welcome news. If only we can break the impasse in compensation for public transport employees, cut-throat competition and finally appreciate what BRT a.k.a. PHILTRAK, as invented here in the 1980s, can do for people moving. As for the tendency of some public utility regulators – TRB, LTFRB, MWSS – who, refuse to abide by contracts regarding fare/toll/rate adjustments, the higher ups must realize how damaging this is to both foreign and domestic private sector confidence wishing to make large investments in our economy.'s number one problem.