MANILA, Philippines – The air-conditioned, blue-painted, heart-decked Love Bus was the idea of former First Lady Imelda Marcos and was operated by what was then the Ministry of Transportation and Communications.
As to why it was called the Love Bus is not clear, but the idea was for it to offer a comfortable ride to passengers. Passengers also waited for these buses to arrive at their designated stops, and did not flag them where it was convenient for them to do so.
The buses, reconditioned Hino brand from Japan, were a welcome alternative to the lawanit (coconut husk)-clad buses. Love Buses used to ply the routes of Escolta, Quezon Avenue, the University of the Philippines, Quad in Makati, Greenhills, among key points in Metro Manila.
Those who remember how convenient they were are proposing their return, as evident in a dedicated Facebook page for the Love Bus.
“The Love Bus was supposed to be a unified transport system,” The Veterans Bank chairman Roberto de Ocampo recalled in an economic outlook forum on Friday, November 21.
Such a state-owned bus system is missing in today’s metropolis. Buses are kings of thoroughfares like EDSA, and bus drivers race to collect as many passengers as they could, unmindful of stalling traffic or risking an accident.
Unlike the Love Bus where there were no standing passengers allowed, buses – or even the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) – have commuters all cramped and standing on the aisles.
“In many cases, we have transport, but no system. Perhaps the system has become individually entrepreneurial for its own good. Anybody can buy a bus, get a franchise, and start operating a bus [business],” De Ocampo, finance secretary during the Ramos administration, said.
According to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), as of August this year, some 3,500 city-franchised buses ply EDSA daily, even if, according to a study, it can only accommodate about 1,600.
There is also the problem of out-of-line provincial buses, whose operators assign units to other existing franchise routes without LTFRB’s nod. This is why the board is pushing for the rationalization of provincial buses.
For a transport-efficient Philippines
When further asked for solutions that can create a transport-efficient system in the Philippines, the experts from Friday’s Fearless Forecast 2015 forum stressed a couple of points.
De Ocampo said coordinated urban planning is long overdue.
But since the devolution of local government units (LGUs) in the 1990s, LGUs manage themselves like tribes without regard for overall public transport efficiency in Metro Manila, De Ocampo added. Thus, there are buses, jeepneys, tricycles, and other means of transportation crossing cities and municipalities.
Australian Peter Wallace, founder of the Wallace Business Forum that provides management consultancy services and advocates for policy changes, cited the double decker buses, like those buses or trams in Hong Kong. In the 1970s, they were visible around Rizal Park.
He said they are better alternatives to public utility vehicles (PUV) like buses that speed up as if they were competitors in Formula One races. They pick up passengers until they are all cramped inside. According to Wallace, a review of road works is necessary, especially the underpasses, to accommodate the height of double decker buses.
Jeepneys, about 60,000 of them in Metro Manila according to LTFRB, should start to become a transport option away from the main roads, De Ocampo opined.
The tricycles too, while they provide jobs in a locality and move commuters to and from short distances, are not exactly a way to the future. “They would mess up traffic even more,” De Ocampo said.
Ferries or water taxis like those in Melbourne, Australia, are also an option and should be utilized more, Wallace said. The Pasig River Ferry Service, which was revived in April, is an alternative to land-based public transport modes. For the commuting experience to be more enticing from Pinagbuhatan, Pasig, to Intramuros, Manila, the Pasig River should, however, be thoroughly rehabilitated, Wallace said.
A railway system is the way to go, but is also challenging due to right-of-way issues, not to mention the country’s archipelagic geography.
For example, if the proposed Northrail project pushes through, it would make Clark Airport a more viable alternative to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), De Ocampo said.
Speaking of airports, especially as a gateway for tourists and investors, De Ocampo said NAIA was an accident waiting to happen. He said it does not have the required land area in the first place, yet government insisted on building it in its present location. Clark has first-class runways waiting to be fully utilized, the former finance chief pointed out.
Also, the idea that everything has to be closer to, or must be in, Manila and within Metro Manila, needs to be reviewed. He cited the congestion problem in the port of Manila, and suggested that the long-term use of the Batangas and Subic ports be studied.
“Subic was an American metropolis given to us for free. It’s worth a revisit,” De Ocampo said.
Overall, a diversified, intermodal, and interconnected network is what Metro Manila and other key locations need for an efficient transportation system, De Ocampo said.
Wallace said a successful city or country, for that matter, is defined by its public transport, “an efficient way to move people around.” – Rappler.com
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