NO government is perfect. And the government was neither perfect nor free from misguided and misguided policies during the period that Nikki Coseteng served in the Philippine Senate. But the governments of the day, imperfect as they were, had a saving grace. There was no deliberate effort to brutalize the common man. No policies have been adopted to make the general public suffer, the Everyman, just to provide cash flow to private entities and stimulate private business interests. The need to promote the well-being of the Everyman took precedence over all other considerations in policy making.
Coseteng discovered that this policy of the primacy of the public good no longer exists today. Recently, she had the unfortunate experience of taking a bus into the province and was dumped at a private bus terminal – the North Luzon Express Terminal, or NLET, in Bocaue, Bulacan – which is barely 30 kilometers from his residence in Quezon City. She started asking questions about the existence of such a terminal and why the government imposed this heavy taxation which has no clear benefit to the traveling public. And she started talking to people with expertise in transport and mobility about the ins and outs of the existence and use of the NLET. Then she found out why regular commuters between the National Capital Region (NCR or Metro Manila) and areas of Central Luzon and North Luzon avoid NLET like the plague.
She also discovered that the NLET, the mandatory arrival point for most provincial bus trips from both regions to the NCR, imposes the following brutal impositions on commuters: delayed trips, double or triple trips to their destinations in the NCR proper, extra fares that are barely within the ability of Covid-affected commuters to afford. And the alleged health and safety functions allegedly performed by NLET do not wash away. How can multiple bus companies converging and unloading and loading at a single private terminal like the NLET be safer, Covid-wise, than loading and unloading at private bus company terminals where strictly guarded yards may be implemented and monitored effectively? And where can Inter-Agency Task Force teams be integrated for seamless Covid surveillance work? The government mandate on the use of the NLET is mind-boggling, as it serves no purpose other than the private purposes of the owners and operators of the NLET. As for the benefits of NLET, here is the equation: 100% for NLET owners and zero for commuters. And the market – the commuters – reacted defiantly. This challenge was on full display during the Christmas season. On December 22, 23 and 24, passengers bound for the provinces refused to go to the NLET terminal in Bocaue to be driven to their province. They converged on the private terminals of the Cubao bus companies in Quezon City. The sad outlook of a cruel and insensitive government has not escaped the authorities. Finally, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) had no choice but to order bus companies to operate their old pre-pandemic routes and completely bypass the NLET. This relief from provincial commuters was, unfortunately, temporary as it only lasted a few days before Christmas.
Today, when commuters from Central Luzon and North Luzon cannot be accommodated on the few buses that can still transport passengers to the NCR outside of the NLET mandate, they take colorum vans. These colorum vans that have no franchises are not government regulated, do not pay taxes, and some passengers’ vaccination cards can be questionable. They also charge more. But they have this undeniable advantage: they offer so-called door-to-door journeys that land passengers very close to their final destination. Or, at the very least, in the NCR proper. Many commuters prefer to take these colorum vans rather than taking the buses that drop off their passengers at the NLET. Unfortunately, while bus companies may be required to obey orders from the LTFRB, which bus companies do 100% of the time, the transit agency has no control over market preference, commuters.
After this rude awakening on how government warrants can brutalize provincial commuters, former Senator Coseteng is now set to reverse this policy of cruel and utterly unnecessary use of NLET. In a recent radio interview, she called the mandatory use of NLET “ruthless.” Next, she detailed the multiple charges such as mandatory government levies on provincial commuters. Based, of course, on personal experience.
The defining physical architecture of major ground transportation hubs, those that are truly functional and meet the mobility needs of commuters, was detailed by one of the country’s famous architects, Felino Palafox Jr., who was in this same forum radio with Coseteng.
New York’s Grand Central Station sits inside the Big Apple and is an incredible hub for connecting and interconnecting rides, Palafox said. Moreover, our current ground transportation policies are setting things back, he added. Instead of a mass transportation-centric policy, it focuses on cars, a car-centric policy that has been suppressed and banned in many major cities around the world. In fact, some of the pioneers of car restriction policies are Stuttgart, the headquarters of Mercedes Benz, and Munich, the German city that is home to BMW. No city in the world that develops transport policies based on data and science still bends to cars.
But nothing can top Barcelona’s initiatives in banning cars and reallocating roads to public spaces. In Singapore, the Prime Minister’s convoy almost always gives way to passing public service buses. The Prime Minister believes that the buses have more important functions to perform than the head of government.
The May election is probably the perfect opportunity for ailing provincial commuters to find their voice and vote well. Who is the presidential candidate who will order the revision – and then the abandonment – of the policy of using expensive and unnecessary private exchanges? Who is the candidate to end car-centric policies in ground transportation? Public Service Buses (PUBs) which, pre-pandemic, moved commuters between NCR and North Luzon/Central Luzon provinces accounted for less than 2% (actually just a fraction of more than 1%) of vehicles using EDSA.
Who will bring relief to brutalized provincial commuters? Who will give primacy to the public welfare over the private interests of corporations? Who will develop sensible land transport policies adapted to the 21st century? What kind of leadership would follow the example of the Prime Minister of Singapore on road use policies? This is essential because in the 21st century mobility is seen as the fourth or fifth rail of democracy.
All of us in the commuting community should unite. Vote well or we could be stuck with the burden of mandatory NLET use for the next six years. Brain-dead candidates will always support brain-dead, anti-poor, anti-commuter policies such as private exchanges.