A crisis in public transportation

July 05,2016 - 10:10 PM

Perhaps the most interesting news for traffic managers and motorists in Cebu last week (other than the heavy downpour that caused massive traffic here in the metropolis) was Senate Bill No. 11 filed by Sen. Franklin Drilon otherwise known as the “Transportation Crisis Act of 2016.”

This bill seeks to grant emergency powers to the Duterte administration to “capacitate him in addressing the horrendous traffic situation within and outside Metro Manila.”

These powers include being able to utilize alternative modes of procurement, prohibition on lower courts from issuing temporary restraining orders (TRO) on critical transportation related projects, and the power to reorganize the Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

The proposed bill would be effective for two years “unless sooner withdrawn by a resolution of Congress, without prejudice to rights and benefits that may have been vested, and culpabilities and liabilities that may have been incurred.”

The inclusion of Cebu in the proposed bill is a welcome development here for traffic managers and motorists alike and is an affirmation of Cebu’s vital role in the national economy since traffic congestion here can have a significant impact in the rest of the country.

Certainly one can agree with the characterization of the state of Philippine traffic as being a crisis.

What is interesting to note is that the title of the proposed bill relates to a crisis in transportation rather than a traffic crisis, an important distinction signifying a paradigm shift in government policy – from moving cars to moving people.

Traffic is merely a symptom; the main cause of traffic is the lack of adequate transportation infrastructure – both the physical and institutional kind.

The proposed bill has not yet been made available online. Looking at the powers being granted to the Executive Branch from news reports, however, it would appear that the three main problems identified as significant bottlenecks to addressing the transportation crisis are the procurement process, legal challenges and administration.

The default mode of procurement, competitive bidding, is a necessary evil (even for the private sector) to get the best value for money. The more complex the project, as transportation projects definitely are, the lengthier and more complicated competitive bidding becomes.

Being able to immediately resort to the alternative modes will be a boon for project implementers and a bane for anti-corruption watchdogs since the proposed bill does not waive the principles of transparency, competitiveness and accountability set forth in our procurement law.

Personally, the challenge in the procurement process is not so much in competitive bidding itself but rather in the identification of effective projects.

The Duterte administration, as well as local government units in Cebu, will have its hands full in trying to select which projects it should prioritize.

Cable cars? Bus Rapid Transit? Light Rail Transit? Subways? Airports?

Where should these projects be implemented to achieve the maximum benefit for both the commuting public and motorists? The key, I think, lies in effective master planning by the agencies concerned.

Once a master plan for transportation has been established and accepted by the general public, the full benefits of resorting to alternate modes can be realized.

Shortcutting the planning process has significantly more dire consequences than expediting the procurement process.

Legal challenges are a trickier stumbling block for project implementation. Each legal challenge is unique to the circumstances of the complainant and there is truth to the adage that you can’t please everybody, especially in government work.

Moreover, Republic Act 8975 or An Act to Ensure the Expeditious Completion of Government Infrastructure Projects already prohibits the issuances of TROs, Preliminary Injunctions and Preliminary Mandatory Injunctions for national government projects.

It will be interesting to see what difference the proposed Transportation Crisis Act will have on this matter.

(Atty. Rafael Yap heads the Cebu City Transportation Office and is Cebu City Hall’s point person for the Bus Rapid Transport project).

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TAGS: BRT, buses, Cebu, lrt, Mass, mass transportation, public transpo, service, train, transportation

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