The COVID-19 pandemic laid the foundation for modern public transport in the Philippines

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The COVID-19 pandemic presents a golden opportunity for tree-huggers and social justice warriors to walk their talk. A good proportion of Metro Manila residents who could afford cars and use them for their daily commutes to and from work under the old normal can work from home. The pandemic and the lockdown that aimed to contain it proved that working from home productively is actually possible for an elite group whose jobs lend well to it. These people are mostly knowledge workers — people whose primary added value to their employers is the output of their thinking. Such an output does not require physical presence to be delivered. Knowledge workers only need today’s abundant networking technology to function and contribute.

Indeed, private vehicles take up a disproportionate share of the road. A private car takes at least ten times the road space a public bus consumes to move one Filipino one kilometre. There had long been an astounding injustice perpetrated by private motorists leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic lent a platform for “activists” to highlight this injustice pointing out just how essential public transport is to ordinary Filipinos and how, for so long, they had to take a backseat to the true kings of Filipino roads — private motorists.

A great way forward is to use the COVID-19 lockdown situation as a means to re-engineer Metro Manila’s public transport system. The government now has the power to determine from scratch who goes back on the road and who should refrain from doing so. This opportunity is evidently something that could gain traction given multi-sectoral support and is something reportedly already seized upon by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP)…

A business group proposed that only buses and trains be allowed to operate in Metro Manila in the meantime, opening modes of public transportation that it thinks are enough to support the skeleton crew of essential businesses.

The Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) has submitted a transportation plan to the government, which essentially suggested that only necessary modes of public transportation should be allowed to operate for now.

The highlight of the plan proposed by MAP is that it “did not include jeepneys.” Jeepneys, after all, are no better than private cars. They move Filipinos in a dirty inefficient way and have no place in a modern public transport system,

Back to the key point, the government is in a once-in-a-generation position to phase commuter traffic back the right way. It could start by prioritising trains then buses. The approach to the latter, buses, is crucial to an important proof-of-concept — that instututing fixed and scheduled bus routes served by drivers on a fixed salary will yield vast productivity gains that could contribute to mitigating the enormous economic setback suffered by the Philippine economy as a result of the lockdown.

The Philippines is long-overdue for a massive re-set of its public transport capability. If there is a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, this opportunity to fix public transport once and for all could be it!

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4 Comments on “The COVID-19 pandemic laid the foundation for modern public transport in the Philippines”

  1. The public transport system in our country is obsolete, and did not improve after World War II.
    We still have the obsolete jeepney, that is a gas guzzler, and maintained by obsolete parts that comes from the scrap yard.

    We have cars that are owned mostly by some Filipinos; but most of these cars are second to third hands, imported from industrialized countries, like Japan. In rich countries, these cars are destined for the scrap yard, to be melted by furnaces….Most Filipinos, use their cars, for “pasikat”; showing everybody, who don’t have a car, that they are wealthy…

    There should be a bicycle lane in the road; where most common Filipinos, can afford to buy a bicycle for transport. Most of the European countries have bicycle lanes….

    The Metro Rail, must be expanded; because there is no other way to transport many people economically, than by Metro train or subway train…overhead train can also be the answer, because Metro Manila is below sea level…

    Anyway, this COVID 19 pandemic, is a good equalizer…the rich and the poor; the powerful and the powerless are susceptible to the pandemic !

  2. “Knowledge workers only need today’s abundant networking technology to function and contribute.”

    It works for them and that’s about it. It’s only an entitlement.

    Unfortunately, so-called knowledge workers, whose added value and output is their thinking, can only claim to half of the equation to complete the process of delivering an actual result.

    Still, you cannot discount the value and contribution of actual workers and front-liners who go out there on the ground to fulfill and deliver that other half.

    The knowledge workers’ claim of being a special elite group of workers only goes as far as being able to work from home. But when it’s time for them to eat, drink and/or breathe outside, it’s going to be different. The claim wouldn’t matter much anymore and becomes meaningless.

  3. Benign0 must have a pretty bleak view of how long CoVid19 is going to hang around if he thinks it will be used to modernise public transport in Manila.

    My feeling is it requires at least four major factors to be in place to stand a chance. I leave you to decide what time scale will be required.

    1. A comprehensive ,coherent and integrated plan for all modes of public transport – heavy rail ,light rail,metro,bus and jeepney. This includes connection to whatever air transport facilities are to be built.If you look at a map of metro lines present and projected, how many interchange stations are there? How many stations have connections to road services? How many interchanges for road services?

    2. Heavy duty political commitment at a very high level from probably the next two administrations at least. This plan will tap-dance on a lot of very sensitive toes – national,local and provincial politicians,the oligarchs,government departments and plenty of other vested interests.

    3. An overarching organisation covering all public transport within and into metro Manila. Probably the largest worldwide is Transport for London (as a Brit this is reasonably familiar to me) but places like Hong Kong and Singapore have equivalents locally, I believe.

    4. A shed load of money. Apart from any new developments involving major construction, could the LRT and MRT lines increase capacity by increasing the size of the trains and running a higher frequency with more trains? Look at the buses – how many of the commuter routes need high-floor vehicles with luggage lockers underneath? How many low-entrance buses are there – a few electric battery buses and the handful on the Ube Express services with all serve the airport ? I don’t share Benign0’s dislike of the jeepney – it has a place for high-frequency lowish capacity services in restricted areas – just not the museum pieces that operate on a free-for-all system. I have seen jeepneys in Angeles that at least have modern styling, although I have no knowledge of their mechanicals. Another option are the baht buses that you can see on Youtube videos of Pattaya. In Britain ,16seat minibuses based on light panel vans had a spell of popularity in the 1980’s, but this was partly due to the end of production of a couple of models that made available a big supply at lower prices.

    My thoughts, but what do others think, and what would they put the probabilities at?

    1. Actually if more of those who can work from home continue doing so indefinitely and keep their chi chi private cars off the roads then there could be less pressure to spend gazillions on big-ticket infra builds. However removing private cars from roads also opens the opportunity to implement radical changes to road-based public transport — as in junk all those jeepneys and eradicate the pestilence that is all those tricycles and pedicabs and convert public buses into state-owned, rationally routed and scheduled systems.

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