Let Me Remind You What Public Transport Should Be

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Let Me Remind You What Public Transport Should Be

SINGAPORE—I write this column from the Little Red Dot, on the sidelines of LogiSYM Asia Pacific 2024. This trip is a good opportunity for many reasons, but one of them is to be reacquainted with how good the country’s public transportation system is.

That is top of mind, of course, as components of the Philippine government discuss – yet again – the state of traffic in Metro Manila. The consensus after the Metro Manila Development Authority’s “traffic summit” a couple of months ago is to mount yet another attempt to manage traffic in the capital, initially by (yet again) adjusting government office hours and mall opening hours to spread the congestion around, and later, through a “holistic” plan that emphasizes the development of public transport.

Of course, it was an opportunity for the government to tout ongoing construction of its major flagship transport projects, both within Metro Manila and beyond, particularly its renewed focus on rail projects, both through ongoing construction of the North-South Commuter Railway and new mass transit lines, but also through the development of a 30-year “rail master plan”. But equally significant is President Marcos reiterating his call for Filipinos to use public transport to help combat congestion once and for all.

And how do you encourage Filipinos, at least here in Manila, to use public transport? Make it as easy to use it as possible.

Indeed, in the Philippines, driving your own motor vehicle has become a default. Never mind being stuck in traffic for hours on the worst days – at least you have your own space and you’re not sweating in a cramped, dingy bus, right? And you can go straight to your home too, rather than make multiple stops.

If this particular LogiSYM event was held in the Philippines, I can’t imagine not driving to the venue. But I am in Singapore. I went to the event’s second day (where I moderated a panel on sustainable procurement – thanks to everyone who watched!) via bus. Sure, it turns out that I didn’t have enough money in my EZ-Link card and had to pay a higher cash fare, but it was a comfortable ride – and notably, it was one ride, with short walks in between from my hotel to the bus stop, and then to the Singapore EXPO. The cost: SGD 2.70, just almost PHP 120. The time spent: 45 minutes.

On the first day, I took the train back from EXPO to my hotel. I have written many times about how sensible Singapore’s MRT system is, and I would continue to do the same, if not for the fact that I was breaking in a new pair of shoes and the long walk to the MRT station hurt my feet. But it’s still a cheap option: I think it was under SGD 2, also for 45 minutes, but with one train transfer.

Yes, I’ll admit I used Grab, too. I was trying to catch the beginning of the event and, since I woke up a little later than planned, I decided to take a Grab at the height of rush hour. The trip cost me roughly SGD 30 – a whopping PHP 1,280! – but at least I knew that if I had a bit more time, I could take a cheaper option. In Manila, it’s either you take a Grab or you suffer the consequences, yeah?

I’ll admit I studied my possible routes to the venue and back to my hotel – I tend to do that when I’m abroad anyway. But the fact remains, this information was quite accessible to me. I live in Manila and I don’t even have an idea how to get from point A to point B without either driving or booking a Grab. I say I “know how to commute” but, especially after COVID-19, I’m not sure I do anymore. Here, figuring things out is easy, and if you’ve got a tight budget or a surplus of time, you can choose a means of transport that fits your needs. And I haven’t talked about walking or biking.

Back home, of course, it is much less straightforward. Not for lack of trying, of course. It’s not just about infrastructure. The PUV Modernization Program continues to face resistance, for one. Personally, though, how can we guarantee that our rides meet a certain standard of service if individual drivers can do things their way? Of course, the government needs to put their money where their mouth is, and provide greater support for affected drivers, whether they have consolidated into cooperatives or not. There should also be an effort to make sure that every route is covered by public transport, and not just those deemed profitable by interested parties. As a former Cavite resident, I hated the idea of taking public transport to my place because most forms of public transport avoid it unless I pay a hefty extra.

As for bikes, well, the MMDA is considering converting bike lanes along EDSA to “shared lanes”, another example of car-centric thinking that continues to bug policy makers. And to think the National Transport Policy mandates that the focus is on mass transport and active transport. But then, that’s the risk you make when you’re keen on showing results rather than demonstrating it. Solving traffic is a long game, and it requires sustained investment on infrastructure (that works, rather than just being aesthetically pleasing) and on changing commuter habits and preferences. Of course, traffic being also a political problem means it demands a political answer sometimes… and we know how far that goes.

2024 SCMAP Supply Chain Conference: The most prestigious event in Philippine supply chain returns on 12-13 September at the EDSA Shangri-la Manila in Mandaluyong City. With the theme “One Supply Chain Going Beyond the Extra Mile”, we promise another stimulating and inspiring mix of talks and panels on pressing issues in the industry, alongside an exhibition showcasing the best logistics solutions from across the region. Become a sponsor now – learn more by visiting scmap.org/events/conference.

Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications director of SCMAP, and editor-in-chief of its official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.

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