By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Why are you discriminating against provincial buses?
Provincial representatives asked this Tuesday as they lament the plan of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to prohibit provincial buses from plying EDSA to ease the dreaded traffic on the national highway.
The Senate committee on public services began its inquiry on the MMDA’s proposed ban on provincial buses that recently drew flak from commuters for making worse the traffic on EDSA.
At the hearing, Camarines Sur Representative and Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund “Lray” Villafuerte Jr. reiterated his opposition on the proposed bus ban.
“This ban, with all due respect, is anti-poor, Madam Chair. And kawawa ang taumbayan, lalong-lalo na ang taga-probinsya (Our people are at a disadvantage, especially those who come from the provinces),” Villafuerte said, addressing Senator Grace Poe, public services committee chairman.
The Bicol solon maintained that provincial buses do not cause the congestion in EDSA. MMDA General Manager Jojo Garcia said that the provincial buses comprise only about one percent of the more than 380,000 vehicles that ply the 24-kilometer road.
Citing an example, Villafuerte said buses from Naga avoid travelling on peak hours to avoid EDSA traffic. He said these buses depart from their provincial terminals at night, and arrive in Metro Manila early in the morning before the rush hours.
He said the bus ban will not solve the Metro Manila’s “complex problem” on traffic as he noted that the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is supposedly planning to add new 2,000 point-to-point buses to receive commuters from endpoints and bring them to their destinations within the capital region.
For this, he proposed the implementation of a partial provincial bus ban and allow the buses to come in during non-peak hours.
“This will partially solve the problem,” he said.
Cavite Rep. Boying Remulla, for his part, noted the government’s lack of transportation plan for Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
He hit the Department of Transportation for “taking their sweet time” in building the needed infrastructure, such as rail systems and intermodal terminals, to solve the traffic problem in Mega Manila.
He also lamented the LTFRB’s “discriminatory” policies that go against commuters’ interests. He recalled Cavite residents being “hurt” by the order on buses to stop at the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange (PITX).
Ako-BICOL party list Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr., who earlier sought the Supreme Court to stop the MMDA’s plan, said city buses cause the heavy traffic in EDSA, and not provincial buses which convey commuters at night to the wee hours of morning.
Requiring provincial buses to pick up and drop off passengers in endpoints will only worsen the EDSA gridlock during rush hours, he warned.
“It will entail more expense for the provincial commuters. It will prolong travel time, [will bring] so much inconvenience. What’s the difference? You only transfer the confusion, and the traffic elsewhere, and end up all at the same time in EDSA,” Garbin said
“I don’t see any logic in implementing the said policy. You don’t need to implement this provincial bus ban,” he added.
Former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares, meanwhile, argued that the MMDA has no authority to impose such a ban, citing an SC ruling. The Bayan Muna had also filed a petition before the SC seeking to halt the MMDA’s plan.
“Why would you discriminate against mode of transport that carries more people and occupying less space in favor of others?” Colmenares asked.
The move will also trigger the increase in fares since buses will be charged with terminal and parking fees, he said.
“This will be another burden for commuters. That’s why I said it’s anti-poor, anti-senior citizens, anti-PWD (persons with disability),” he added.
Under the MMDA’s plan, provincial buses will not be allowed to load and unload passengers along EDSA. Pick up and drop off will only be allowed at “interim” terminals in Valenzuela City and Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
In the hearing, Garcia defended their proposal as a short-term solution to decongest the EDSA.
While provincial buses make up only a small fraction of the EDSA traffic, he said the ban will aid the implementation of the government’s “yellow lane policy” for buses.
There are 6,500 buses traversing EDSA, 3,250 of which are provincial buses.
Removing half of the number will help speed up travel time for commuters in Metro Manila, since city buses will only be allowed to ply the highway.
“So if we decongest [the yellow lane] for our city buses, our commuters will benefit since more than half [of the volume] was removed,” Garcia said.
He said the MMDA cannot wait for the construction of permanent intermodal terminals, and had “to do something” due to the increasing number of vehicles using EDSA.
He said 46 of the 97 bus terminals in Metro Manila are on EDSA.