By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Grace Poe on Tuesday urged the Department of the Transportation (DOTr) and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to designate temporary terminals that are more accessible for Metro Manila commuters before pursuing their plan to ban provincial buses on EDSA.
Poe issued the appeal after the Senate Committee on Public Services begun its inquiry on the MMDA’s proposed provincial bus ban.
In the hearing, MMDA general manager Jojo Garcia said the agency sees the ban as one of the solutions to reduce the volume of vehicles plying EDSA and address the persistent traffic problem in Metro Manila.
Despite a halt order from a Quezon City court, the MMDA conducted last week a voluntary dry-run of its proposed scheme prohibiting all provincial buses from picking up and dropping off passengers along EDSA. Under the plan, the buses will be required to end their routes at integrated terminals as bus terminals along EDSA will also be closed down.
Pending the construction and full operations of intermodal terminals, Garcia said the government assigned interim terminals for provincial buses in Valenzuela City and Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
But Poe said that while she welcomes the willingness of the local governments of the said cities, the temporary terminals are still too far a stop-over for provincial commuters headed to their destinations in Metro Manila.
“Magpakatotoo naman tayo, kung medyo malalayo ang mga terminal na ito, hindi talaga magiging maayos ang pagpapatupad. Kaya nga isa sa nakita natin dito, imbes na i-ban ninyo kaagad, bakit hindi kayo kumuha ng mga intermodal terminals within strategic areas dito sa may EDSA,” Poe said in an interview after the hearing.
(Let’s be honest, if terminals are quite far, the provincial bus ban will not succeed. That’s why we believe that instead of immediately banning them, why don’t you get intermodal terminals within strategic areas near EDSA?)
Poe, for instance, said the MMDA could make use of mall spaces in North EDSA or Cubao in Quezon City which are more convenient for commuters coming from provinces.
The senator also prodded the DOTr to fast track the construction of the planned Taguig Integrated Terminal Exchange (ITX) at the FTI compound in Taguig City to accommodate provincial buses going to and from South Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
The project, launched in 2018, has not commenced yet due to right-of-way issues concerning its access ramps, DOTr Undersecretary Mark de Leon told the Senate panel.
She said the intermodal terminals, or the temporary terminals in strategic locations at least, should be put up before shutting down the operations of the 46 bus terminals along EDSA.
The public services committee head said she agrees that prohibiting provincial buses on EDSA would not solve the dreaded traffic problem.
In the hearing, Garcia said that provincial buses comprise only about one percent, 3,250 units, of the more than 380,000 vehicles plying the national road.
Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. also shared the same sentiment, questioning the MMDA for blaming provincial buses for the EDSA traffic.
“Hindi naman pala karamihan ang provincial buses kumpara sa iba, pero bakit ang mga ito ang pinanggigigilan anong meron ang mga provincial buses kumpara sa ibang sasakyan?” he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, as well as some congressmen who attended the Senate inquiry, urged the MMDA to consider the proposed partial ban and allow provincial buses to traverse EDSA during non-peak hours.
Still, Garcia insisted on the need for the ban to decongest EDSA’s “yellow lane” for city buses.
The MMDA official also repeatedly told the panel that they cannot wait for the permanent integrated terminals and infrastructure as he claimed that the number of vehicles increase by at least a thousand every day.
Garcia said they hope to continue with their dry run should the Quezon City Regional Trial Court lift the preliminary injunction it issued against the scheme.
He also clarified that the ban already includes window hours of between 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. to allow provincial buses on EDSA.
Asked on this particular position of the MMDA, Poe said the agency, still, should be given a chance to test its proposal.
“Pagbigyan natin, na sana pagbigyan sila ng korte na bigyan na kung ang dry run na ‘yun ay dalawang araw o isang araw. Para makita talaga nila kung gagana ‘yan kung wala talagang temporary terminals within Metro Manila na puwedeng puntahan (Let’s give them a chance, if the court allows them, to conduct a two-day or one-day dry run. So that they will see if this would work without temporary terminals in Metro Manila where provincial buses would go),” Poe said.
In the hearing, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon raised the need to review the MMDA’s powers as he noted its “difficulty” in enforcing its proposed traffic schemes.
The MMDA admitted that it has no authority to order the shutdown of terminals in EDSA as ruled by the Supreme Court in 2007. Garcia also lamented that the agency has no police power.
Drilon urged the public services committee to consider amending the MMDA’s mandate so that it could immediately impose policies to improve the traffic situation in EDSA and other national roads.
“We should review the MMDA mandate in so far as traffic management [is] concerned,” Drilon told Poe.
Poe supported the call, noting that the issue does not only involve Metro Manila, but also nearby areas in Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Batangas.
“Tingnan mo, ngayon nanghihimasok na ang MMDA kung saan-saan pero sa totoo noon wala naman talaga silang kapangyarihan,” Poe said.