Officials of the Duterte regime, from the the presidential office to the Department of Transportation, are united in claiming we don’t have a mass transport crisis. They say what we have is merely a traffic problem.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Mass transport and traffic are related, but they’re different.

Mass transport refers to trains, buses, jeeps, AUVs, and other modes of transport for masses of our people as well as goods and services from one point to another.

Traffic meanwhile refers to the allocation of space and time in the use of our streets and roads.

It is useless to argue about the traffic. The daily traffic jams at multiple points of EDSA and most major thoroughfares around Metro Manila are a reality nobody would dispute. The Metro Manila Development Authority would regularly tell of “high volume” of vehicles as the chief cause of the traffic snarls in most places.

But people find it hard to move around Metro Manila not just because of the traffic. And this is where we strongly reject the Duterte regime’s alternative reality theory on the issue.

Metro Manila simply doesnt have enough trains and buses to adequately address the mass transport needs of the public.

FIRST: From 73, we now have only a maximum of 15 MRT3 trains in operation. One need not be a genius to infer 15 MRT trains are not enough and also way below the system’s full capacity.

The “decomposition” of the MRT3 could’ve been averted. The government could’ve foreseen the rising ridership and the MRT3’s value in moving 650,000 people but past and current regimes failed.

Commuters and the public successfully compelled the Aquino regime to acquire new trains. But the new trains were made to rot for the past three years by its successor Duterte regime. The current regime started only this month the trial run of a grand total of one new train composed of three coaches.

SECOND: LRT2, owned and maintained by government, is not fully operating all its stations due to a fire incident. Three stations are now closed and repairs may not be finished until after nine months.

Salvador Panelo, Celine Pialago, and the president’s apologists cannot underestimate or delete the impact of the closure of three LRT2 stations. The closures mean hardship, extra expense, and a stumbling block for overall mobility for the commuters living in the eastern part of Metro Manila.

THIRD: LRT1 has been turned over to a private conglomerate which, instead of prioritizing public service, focuses on profiteering. We asked for new trains, and yet they gave us new turnstiles and fare hikes across LRT1, LRT2, and MRT3. We asked for major improvements and expansions, but they prioritized giving other corporations renaming rights for stations.

FOURTH: The MMDA has demonized city buses as the culprit for EDSA traffic. This despite the scientific finding that 70 percent of vehicles hogging EDSA are private cars.

We need more buses to transport more people, and also more bus lanes to make these buses zip through EDSA. But the MMDA considers buses as evil, limits bus lanes, and gives private cars the honor of hogging EDSA.

FIFTH: Many people have responded positively to government calls to instead live in the suburbs and nearby provinces. But education and livelihood opportunities remain scarce there, and so they study and work in Metro Manila. However, the MMDA has decided to ban the provincial buses from unloading passengers along EDSA.

Folks from provinces north and south of Metro Manila are now forced by MMDA to congregate at Buendia and Cubao, and far-away PITX. Thus, the traffic snarls in those areas where — yet again — there are not enough buses and jeeps to transport commuters. By banning city stops, the idiots in the MMDA also disconnected the provincial bus passengers from the MRT3 and consigned them to making unnecessary new trips to Makati and Ortigas.

SIXTH: There’s also the war against jeepneys in favor of vehicle manufacturers, banks and lenders. There’s no new state funding to subsidize the purchase of new modernized jeepneys. If the regime suddenly bans old, current jeepneys, it is not difficult to imagine the chaos people would face in the streets and pushing drivers further down to poverty.

SEVENTH: The near-total and criminal negligence of government in maintaining, upgrading and expanding Philippine National Railways. Again, no new funds for the PNR. It seems the government plans to run the PNR line to the ground and to make it rot in preparation for selling the PNR to a “more efficient” and “moneyed” private corporations.

The Duterte regime’s claim of “a mere traffic problem” would have been totally understandable and acceptable if there are adequate trains, buses, and jeeps. But there aren’t.

There is a mass transport crisis because the government has abandoned the commuters, made our trains rot, failed to expand the train system, and demonized buses and jeeps. Car makers have been quick to seize on this, capitalizing on middle-class desperation and excessive upper-class consumption. The breakdown in mass transport is gain for car makers, banks, and loan sharks.

Consequently, the growing car sales resulted in rising number of private cars now hogging EDSA and major roads. Many of these new car owners were former commuters, but were pushed away from the decrepit trains and demonized buses and trains.

The mass transport crisis is not impossible to solve. We must nationalize the trains so we could freely decide to fix and expand them. We could acquire double-deckers to double the bus loading capacities and repurpose the current buses to serve the provinces. We could reconnect provincial buses directly to train stations. We could modernize the jeepneys by fully subsidizing the purchase of new modernized jeepneys.

Metro Manila’s 12 million people plus those who live nearby deserve a mass transport system that is more-than-adequate, forward-looking, affordable, and efficient. Big improvements in mass transport would incentivize people to leave cars at home and thereby declog the roads, and to instead commute.

Nothing is impossible. Only the unimaginative, anti-commuter, pro-capitalist, inept, and corrupt would say “bahala na si Batman” or, in this case, Superman.

Published in Manila Bulletin
Feature photo by JAM STA ROSA