A group of public transportation advocates is calling on the government to adopt more “people-oriented policies” to address the country’s current transport crisis.
In a webinar last Nov. 10, the Move As One Coalition presented its ten-point agenda to fight the “high and persistent” transport inflation, or the change in prices of goods and services related to transportation.
“The only sustainable way to address the sharp rise [in transport costs] is to wean ourselves from our dependence on oil and equipment that use oil like private cars,” Move As One coordinator Ken Abante said.
International think-tank Oliver Wyman Forum recently ranked Manila 58th out of 60 countries in the Urban Mobility Readiness Index. The index measures cities’ transport infrastructure to determine their ability to address future challenges in mobility.
The group cited poor quality of roads and limited connectivity to the regions as some primary challenges to the metropolitan area’s road transport infrastructure and suggested a “low level of car ownership” to address the worsening transport crisis.
Data from the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) showed a rise in the road share of private vehicles compared to public utility vehicles (PUVs) between 2012 and 2021.
During that period, the share of private cars and motorcycles on Metro Manila roads increased by almost 48%, while road space for PUVs was almost halved.
The coalition described this as a “massive” shortage in public transportation, which contributed significantly to the transport crisis, especially in urban areas like Metro Manila.
Longer travel times, costlier trips
Commuters have been bearing the brunt of this long-standing dilemma. Apart from the longer travel times due to road congestion, road travelers like Elisha Tamayosa are now also paying higher fares for their trips.
Tamayosa, who commutes at least four times a week from Taguig to Quezon City for her classes at UP, said that her travel expenses have increased from its pre-pandemic rates. This has made saving money more difficult, especially with her limited daily budget of P200.
“Kung gusto kong makauwi, dapat matuto akong magtipid even to the point na isa-sacrifice ko na yung ipon ko,” Tamayosa said.
While there is a shorter and cheaper route that she can take, she said it was a “riskier” option as more passengers ply that route. More people onboard in those vehicles make her more susceptible to COVID-19.
The minimum fare in public utility jeepneys (PUJs) had a P4 increase between 2019 and 2022.
The most recent fare hike was implemented in October this year when the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) approved fare hikes for various PUVs due to soaring oil prices.
Based on the oil price monitor of the Department of Energy, the price of diesel, the fuel commonly used by PUJs and buses, has more than doubled between October 2019 and October 2022, from P53.52 to P86.76.
Meanwhile, gasoline, used by taxis and motorcycles, has also increased by 22.1% in the same period, equivalent to almost P27.
Travelers have also been taking more time on the road. Between 2015 and 2019, the average travel speed on Metro Manila roads decreased from about 34 kilometers per hour (kph) to 24 kph.
To better visualize this number, this means that the travel time for the whole stretch of the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) in 2015 was at around 42 minutes, while in 2019 it was at almost an hour. This does not yet account for the slowdowns due to heavy traffic volume.
Drivers also taking a hit
Drivers and other workers in the transport sector are also feeling the pinch of high operational costs like tricycle driver Jefferson Diza.
“Kung talagang sasagad ka ng biyahe, [sapat naman yung kita] pero kung hindi naman, hindi talaga. Saktong-sakto lang din,” Diza explained.
Diza earns P600 daily from doing trips with his uncle’s tricycle unit. While this is almost the same as the P700 he had been earning before the pandemic, the high prices of basic commodities have made budgeting a much more difficult task.
Inflation reached a 14-year high in November at 8%, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
Among its main drivers are food and non-alcoholic beverages whose index prices rose by 10%. Real wages, meanwhile, have further fallen to P491, even after the P33 wage hike in June.
In their agenda, the Move As One Coalition called for better working conditions for workers like Diza through service contracts.
Under the proposed system, transport workers would be paid regular wages sourced from the funds of local government units, instead of having uncertain daily earnings depending on the number of trips they make.
The group also recommended the distribution of fuel subsidies and an “equity subsidy” for the purchase of new vehicles under the government’s PUV Modernization Program.
Lack of transport options
Among the reasons for the high transport inflation is the prolonged shutdown of public transport when the pandemic hit in 2020.
The Move As One Coalition is projecting that the shortage in the public transport supply will continue until 2030, even if the government’s rail infrastructure targets are built on time.
In a study, the coalition reported almost P2 trillion worth of rail investments are expected to be completed by 2030. These include the Metro Manila subway project and extensions of the Light Rail Transit Line 2 (LRT-2) and the Philippine National Railways.
“We have no problem investing in rail … but we have very real mobility needs today. Protected bike lanes, bus expansion, and reallocation of road space is a cheaper but more effective alternative,” Abante said.
The coalition urged the government to invest 1.5% of the country’s gross domestic product or P306 billion in “road-based public transport” including building pedestrian spaces, protected bike lanes, and bus rapid transit systems.
In the proposed national budget for 2023, the Philippine government has only allotted P9 billion for the program.
The Move As One Coalition also asked the Department of Transportation and LTFRB to allow the remaining 7,906 PUV units to resume operations in 66 routes in Metro Manila.
The group also called on the two agencies to welcome common fleet management arrangements from transport cooperatives and corporations in order to increase the supply of PUVs.
Among the group’s other suggestions include instituting PUV-only lanes or hours on roads and ensuring the safety of both transport workers and commuters against COVID-19 through strict adherence to minimum public health and safety protocols.
In the end, the coalition stressed the need for a strong political will to fix the country’s crippling transport crisis.
“What’s important [to solve the transport shortage] is a decisive fiscal policy, specifically for budgeting, that will help us transform the way that we depend on oil and private vehicles,” Abante said.
This article is originally a submission for a Journalism 117 (Online Journalism) class at the University of the Philippines Diliman, College of Mass Communication, Department of Journalism.