PGTW: One helluva boat ride

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 13 March 2014, Thursday

One helluva boat ride

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Francis Tolentino unveiled with pride last week its own ferry service along the 25-kilometer Pasig River.

The MMDA River Bus Ferry had a dry-run last Mar. 5 from Guadalupe, Makati to Escolta, Manila.

The “bus ferry” was, literally, a banana-yellow mini-bus perched on a blue tug boat.

“Each boat can have [sic] as many as 40 passengers and has music to entertain the people,” Tolentino said. “Passengers will be charged a minimal fare.”

While Tolentino says the ferry service is temporary and will hopefully be a catalyst for private companies to provide such services, there is still the question of whether these makeshift MMDA ferries are seaworthy (or, “river”-worthy).

I’m not letting my children on that thing. It looks like it could be a ferry straight to Hades. Tolentino as Charon? Say it isn’t so. I’m not going to pay a fare, however minimal, to ride a contraption out of the worst imaginings of pwede na ‘yan.

It is the MMDA’s clutching-at-straws solution to the massive traffic challenges caused by the ongoing major road rehabilitation projects, the shortage of MRT trains, and a host of other factors.

Last Friday, netizens posted photos of the long, snaking lines of commuters, mostly University Belt students and Makati office workers, waiting their turn to ride on the MRT and LRT. The trains were crammed. Some people opted to walk or try their luck on buses and other forms of public transport.

“After walking an hour from Ayala to Guadalupe, I finally found a bus with a free seat.,” said Instagrammer Frances Doplon. “My hour-long commute became 3 hrs, but who cares? I’m frickin’ home! #willpower”

In an attempt to serve its nearly 500,000 passengers per day, the operating hours of the MRT-3 line that runs from North Avenue, Quezon City, to Taft Avenue, Pasay City, have been extended.

Early last month, a Department of Transportation and Communications official said that because of the shortage of trains, an estimated 200,000 passengers per day cannot use the Metro Rail Transit Line 3.

But with the lifting last Feb. 21. by the court of the injunction case filed by MRT Holdings II, Inc., the DOTC can now add 48 new light rail vehicles to the MRT3 line. However, it will take a while. The 48 coaches will be delivered in tranches starting the second half of 2015.

The DOTC also said the Philippine National Railways will begin a special coach service on the Tutuban to Sta. Rosa route, while the Light Rail Transit Authority is studying how its LRT lines 1 and 2 can accommodate more passengers.

Meanwhile, to make the MRT and LRT experience easier and faster, the Department of Budget and Management approved the replacement of the railways’ magnetic stripe tickets with “contactless smartcards” and tokens. Again, this new system will take time to purchase and implement.

The severe transportation crisis and the shortage of the appropriate infrastructure is expected to adversely affect our economy in the years to come. Some estimates put the country’s annual productivity loss to traffic at $140 billion annually.

This was the figure, more or less, in the findings of a study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency in 1999 and by the University of the Philippines National Center for Transportation Studies in 2011.

A recent JICA study put losses at P2.4 billion a day in 2012 and up to P6 billion per day by 2030 if the traffic situation does not improve.

The researchers attributed direct losses to wasted fuel and electricity, lost labor hours, and employment of traffic aides, while indirect losses stemmed from the loss of potential foreign investments and business opportunities, and reduced capital inflow.

The government recognizes the need for improved public infrastructure, hence the many projects for road and bridges building and rehabilitation, among others.

Many of these projects will be completed over the medium- to long-term. But what immediate solutions are there to alleviate the hellishness of the daily commute?

Early this month, Pasay Rep. Emi Calixto-Rubiano filed House Bill No. 3827, the “Bicyclist Act of 2014”, seeking to promote the use of bicycles in the streets.

Using bikes, she said, will not only promote health and exercise, but also reduce reliance on and air pollution from fossil fuels and contribute to decongesting the city.

Calixto-Rubiano is aware that most Philippine cities are not bike-friendly, with a glaring lack of bike lanes and bike parking spaces. The “Local Bikeways Offices” she proposes to create in her bill, to be established in cities and municipalities nationwide, will implement bikeway projects and routes in partnership with private and public agencies.

Riding a bike on a dedicated bikeway, or even walking to work and school on a pedestrian lane, still seems safer and more healthful than riding the MMDA’s makeshift ferry. Never mind the piped-in music it will have for passengers’ entertainment – I’d rather get to my destination alive, thanks.

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