A news item caught my eye last week: ride-sharing giants Grab will pilot a scooter service in Intramuros. Thirty scooters will be deployed in the district for three months, as part of its GrabWheels program. Those interested can use it for free.
It certainly is another step toward private sector efforts to provide more transportation options, of all scales, across Manila, an urban agglomeration that’s heavily congested, difficult to navigate and yet impossible (for the most part) to skip. In a place where infrastructure development is still centered towards car use, and where public transport is unreliable at best and unsafe at worst, there has been a gap that new companies have been happy to exploit. No wonder motorcycle-hailing service Angkas has boomed, and homegrown ride-sharing app Owto has made some headway, particularly among TNVS users who feel strongly about Grab’s virtual monopoly. And it’s gone beyond the need to move people, with delivery services such as Lalamove and Mober—not to mention Grab’s own GrabExpress service—becoming popular with businesses and customers alike.
Again, this is a topic worth diving into for its implications on supply chain. It provides additional options for delivering products, particularly during surge periods, although with bigger companies (understandably) choosing to tap established players with whom they can have exclusive service-level agreements with, this option has been viable only for smaller businesses, like those people selling on Instagram.
From a transportation perspective, it provides people more options, allowing them to better map their trips in the most convenient (and comfortable) way possible. This is important in a consumption-driven economy like ours: better transportation means better access to products, and this is key considering not everybody is comfortable buying everything online just yet (although that is growing).
But I get the impression that these efforts to augment a transportation system that’s both bursting at the seams and lacking are not well-coordinated. The reaction towards the entry of Uber and Grab is one example. It was supposed to complement existing options; instead it became the only option some passengers are willing to take, which meant taxi operators crying foul, and authorities scrambling to accommodate everyone and satisfying no one. As I mentioned a couple of columns back, this is where a transport policy—one that supports all possible means of transport, recognizes that theose means do not exist in a vacuum and are very much connected, and is ultimately responsive to citizen needs—would come in.
Instead, we have clear band-aid efforts to solve EDSA traffic – like solving that means solving all traffic in Metro Manila and beyond—that don’t really take into account commuting habits and preferences. Take the provincial bus ban. It makes sense on paper, but without the work on bus routes from the new transport terminals going into the city, it won’t work in practice. Passengers will just see it as a hassle. (Not to mention that when the dry run was being implemented, EDSA was more congested than usual—and bus passengers were spilling beyond the designated bus stops.)
It also leads to even more hare-brained proposals – and I say that because they were hatched just to solve one problem, never mind the many others it might make. Take the proposal for a four-day work week, made solely to solve EDSA. Also take the proposal to allow more telecommuting. Apart from the other problems it won’t solve, it still leaves people—and goods—unable to move to where they need to be.
As the private sector seeks to fill in the gaps in transportation—or, as Grab Philippines head Brian Cu rightly puts it, “personal mobility”—the public sector must take notes, gather a lot of input (and be open about it, rather than releasing announcements in a way nobody will see it) and manage expectations. Fixing our transportation problem is rightly a huge undertaking, particularly now that we’re just getting to grips with expanding our rail system. It will take a while. We should all be in this together, rather than antagonizing one or the other. But then, it’s more convenient to show our impatience—and I, as a driver and public transport user, who lives in the suburbs and travels an hour (early in the morning) to get to work on time, totally sympathize.
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Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications executive of SCMAP. A former board director, he is also editor-in-chief of the organization’s official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.