Filipinos are too quick to slam the efforts of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to provide an alternative public transport option to Metro Manilans. The “Holiday Bus Service” is actually a good idea. Half-baked perhaps, but a good one that possibly needs more time in the oven.
The Holiday Bus Service is a simple three-route network at the moment, but uses principles applied in modern public bus transport networks in advanced countries. The network links five main terminals — two in the uptown Metro Manila suburb of Quezon City at SM North EDSA and Trinoma (North EDSA), one midtown in Pasig City at the SM Megamall, and two downtown in Ayala Center, Makati City at Glorietta 5 and Park Square Terminal. Route A1 links the Trinoma terminal with the Makati Park Square Terminal, Route A2 links SM North EDSA terminal with the Glorietta 5 terminal, and Route A3 links the SM Megamall terminal with the Park Square Terminal.This is not a new concept. The famous Love Bus service of the now-defunct state-owned Metro Manila Transit Corporation (MMTC) in the 1970s and 1980s also plied limited stop routes while charging a premium fare. It linked the then premiere shopping centres of the time — Ali Mall in Cubao, Escolta in Binondo, and Rustan’s Department Store in Makati — with a luxurious airconditioned bus service that appealed to a well-heeled crowd. A terminal was acquired at the Ateneo de Manila campus in Quezon City in the 1980s (further adding to the prestige of the network) and a Marikina route was introduced later. Even while charging commuters at about twice or thrice the the fare of regular bus services, the Love Buses were often packed to full capacity most trips.
In this regard the Holiday Bus Service of the MMDA and LTFRB is a promising “innovation” to Metro Manila’s dysfunctional road-based public transport system. As a government service, it should be allowed to operate at a loss if necessary. That said, it does not even have to. If the strategy is to get more people out of private cars and onto public transport, then its current price structure could be retained to restrict its patrons to a crowd that, shall we say, appeals to the predominantly car-owning Conyos of Manila and encourage them to leave their “dangerous” Mitsubishi Monteros at home where they belong during weekdays.
For that matter, consider that one of the developers of this service is the LTFRB which, among other things, is the regulatory body that governs allocation of franchises and routes to public transport service providers. This means that the LTFRB even on its own has the power to unilaterally improve the competitive standing of the Holiday Bus Service vis-a-vis all the rest of the rogue services operating in Metro Manila. All the LTFRB needs to do is to start cancelling competing jeepney and bus services and replace these with similar scheduled limited-stop services, in the process expanding the modern road-based bus network.
Indeed, only with the complete abolition of the current “boundary”-based fare structure used by private transport operators in key Metro Manila transport routes and replacing these with services composed of vehicles driven by professional drivers on fixed salaries will the rot in Metro Manila’s public transport network be eventually managed down. At the moment, chaos reigns because public utility vehicle drivers are incentivised by having most of their income tied to a commission on the day’s fare collection. This drives the sorts of abusive behaviour in bus and jeepney drivers that Metro Manila commuters put up with today.
Perhaps the key to modernising Metro Manila’s bus system is at hand. All we need to do is be patient and give the Holiday Bus Service a chance.[Thumbnail photo courtesy PhilStar.]
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