July 13, 2022

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Transport coalition calls on DoTr to freeze route rationalization plan

By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

A TRANSPORT association said on Wednesday that the Department of Transportation (DoTr) must focus on streamlining the regulatory processes at the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) instead of its current plan to rationalize routes, saying that such a measure would inconvenience commuters.

“What they want to do is rationalize the routes. For example, as a passenger, if I’m traveling from San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, to Makati or Taguig, I’ll have to transfer from one PUV to another up to three times instead of taking a direct ride,” Mar S. Valbuena, chairman of the transport coalition Manibela, told BusinessWorld in a phone interview.

He said streamlining the LTFRB’s approval process would expedite the entry of more public utility vehicles (PUVs) to meet rising demand.

The LTFRB has been pushing for route rationalization to optimize the number of vehicles servicing each route in response to prevailing demand levels.

Transport groups said in a joint statement on Wednesday the DoTr bid out the Metro Manila Urban Transportation Integration Study Update and Capacity Enhancement Project, or the Route Rationalization Study, in 2018. 

“Results of the study have not been released to the public, even if changes and public transport services have already been introduced,” Move Metro Manila, Move As One Coalition, Manibela, and Komyut transport groups said in a joint statement.

Transport Secretary Jaime J. Bautista said at a Palace briefing on Monday that a full study on a “fleet rationalization” plan is ongoing.

He said the study should be completed before face-to-face classes resume in August.

“Kailangan natin ng mga tamang information kung anu-ano iyong mga availability nitong mga sasakyan na gagamitin natin and ano ang ating mga puwedeng gawin (We need accurate information on vehicle availability before we can take any steps),” he said.

Since the reopening of the economy, the LTFRB has been gradually opening routes and issuing permits to PUV operators.

“Marami sa amin ang gustong bumiyahe at makapagserbisyo sa publiko kasi hanapbuhay namin ang makapagbiyahe, kaya lang parang dadaan ka sa butas ng karayom sa napakaraming requirements ng LTFRB (The LTFRB has been making it difficult for us even though we want to ply our routes to serve commuters, because that is our livelihood),” Mr. Valbuena said.

“Ang daming gagastusin muna para mabigyan kami ng temporary permit. Baka imbes na i-prioritize ni Secretary Bautista ang rationalization of routes, unahin nya ang rationalization ng mga proseso sa LTFRB (The LTFRB charges a lot of fees just for a temporary permit. Maybe Secretary Bautista should rationalize the agency instead of routes),” he added.

LTFRB Chairperson Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil has said that President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. ordered the agency to streamline permit processing and to ensure the prompt delivery of aid to transport workers.

“We have been given three directives: to streamline processes, to ensure aid is delivered to drivers, and to look after commuter welfare,” she said in a statement.

Ms. Garafil, a lawyer and a former journalist, said the LTFRB “will listen, study, and work with everyone here and also our stakeholders on how we can better improve our services.”

Move Metro Manila convenor Grace Gorospe-Jamon said Mr. Bautista seems to be paying attention to the right problems, citing the initial directives and acts of the new Secretary, a former top official of Philippine Airlines.

“Mr. Bautista’s commitment to providing accessible, affordable, comfortable, and safe transport service is reassuring,” she said in a statement.

“He is practically resetting the agency’s performance metrics to be centered on the commuter experience, very unlike the previous leadership’s emphasis on infrastructure progress,” she added.

The transport groups took note of Mr. Bautista’s observation tour of the MRT, which he rode alongside everyday commuters.

“Mr. Bautista’s latest directive to fully deploy 550 buses on the EDSA Busway is a sign that the transport chief recognizes the public transport supply shortage,” Robert Y. Siy of the Move As One Coalition said.

A commuters’ group said that Mr. Bautista should ensure accessibility of transport service.

“Kaming mga komyuter ay umaasa na sisiguruhin at uunahin ni Secretary Bautista ang accessibility ng transport service. Ang kilo-kilometrong pila sa sakayan, ang araw-araw na maniningil sa kanya at sa kanyang mga pangako sa mananakay (We commuters are hoping that Secretary Bautista focuses on transport accessibility. We will hold him to his commitments every day we see commuters having to endure long queues for rides),” Toix Cerna of Komyut, an online community of commuters, said.

Asked to comment, Mr. Bautista said in a statement: “At the onset of my term as Transport Secretary, I announced my plan to transplant the thrust of Philippine Airlines to constantly focus on enhancing passenger experience at all stages of their journey.”

“Today, at the Department of Transportation, our utmost priority is extending safe, comfortable, affordable and accessible travel to all passengers. I am inspired by the reaction of urban mobility groups who believe we are on the right track. Suggestions and criticisms provide vital inputs how we are to proceed in effecting significant change in this sector which is critical to the country’s economic rebound,” he added.