POSTSCRIPT / June 23, 2020 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Mix ‘modern’ PUJs with ancient bicycles

THE LORDS of Metro Manila are unleashing “modern” jeepneys in the national capital while also taking a giant backward step encouraging the use of bicycles on EDSA, the main artery of a dense metropolis gasping for breath.

Are these moves the best that the Metro Manila Development Authority and the Department of Transportation can offer after the three months’ lead time given them by the coronavirus (Covid-19) scourge to clear the traffic mess?

On the public utility jeepneys, the first thing we should probably do is stop describing them as “modern”. The vans being offered as substitute may look new but they are not modern if we use as standard the safety, comfort, and efficiency of public conveyances of advanced countries.

Every contraption we see around was once “modern”, at least at the time of its invention or introduction. In that temporal sense, the new van may be modern, but its promoters may want to use other adjectives to indicate its improved efficiency, comfort, and convenience.

The original jeepney (also called “jitney” in some places) sought to be replaced is an iconic mobile folk art object, a resurrection by native artisans of the World War-II mini-vehicle. It is a psychedelic explosion of Filipino creativity.

The sentimental value of the old jeepney, however, should not stop us from transitioning to a more efficient and comfortable substitute. But just don’t say that a “modern” passenger vehicle is replacing the old king of the road.

The government, if we may add, should step up its assistance to owners and operators of the old jeepneys in refurbishing and selling their units in a secondary market, possibly outside Metro Manila. Just make sure they do not carry any virus as the “Balik-Probinsya” program did.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board was to start fielding the “modern” PUJs yesterday on 15 Metro Manila routes awarded to operators who have complied with the requirements under the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines. More routes will be opened tomorrow and Friday.

Chairman Martin Delgra III of the LTFRB said: “The resumption of PUJ operations is part of our calibrated response to restore mass transportation in Metro Manila and in adjacent provinces as we transition into new normal, taking into consideration the strict health protocols being enforced to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”

He said the jeepneys are covered by personal passenger insurance and equipped with GNSS (global navigation satellite system) or GPS (global positioning system) for monitoring. Passengers may use their mobile apps or contactless smart cards to pay for fares.

Drivers, conductors, and passengers must wear face masks at all times. Drivers or operators must provide a disinfecting foot bath for passengers to use before boarding. Physical distancing must be observed inside the vehicles.

 Bike-to-work idea stays after Covid?

ON USING bicycles on EDSA, we ask the government to look beyond the Covid-19 pandemic before building the elevated or fenced bicycle lanes. We don’t want to see this bike-to-work program being dropped in ningas-kogon fashion once the plague is gone.

When the pandemic is over, what do we do with the by-then old bicycles and the planned dedicated 1.5-meter-wide bike lanes on EDSA? Do we jack-hammer out the elevated pathways and repaint the new lanes?

The first time I went to Beijing* in September 1974, I was amazed at the countless bicycles that the Chinese rode to go where they had to. Parked in rows upon rows around buildings were hundreds of bicycles.

*Footnote: I was in China to cover the visit of then first lady Imelda R. Marcos, who was sent by her astute husband to pave the way for the opening of diplomatic relations between the neighbors. Ties were formalized in June 1975.

Back to the sea of bicycles in Beijing, with their common dark color, one wondered how the owners located their bikes when it was time to leave, or if there were cases of people taking a better-looking bike instead of their own.

(In contrast, on the Google campus in Mountain View, California, which I visited some years ago, there are also a large number of bikes in Google colors parked in some places. Visitors can use them to pedal around the site.

(On the other extreme, also parked there are electric cars being recharged while their owners are at work on flexi-schedules. Some workers opt to take unmarked Google buses that collect personnel at prearranged locations.)

That scene in Beijing of countless bikes dominating the streets and filling capacious parking areas is gone. Reflective of China’s economic leaps-forward over the decades, motor vehicles have taken their rightful places on the road.

But here in Manila, it seems like we’re going backward, with cars being replaced by bicycles and not the other way around. Some people have gone back to walking instead of waiting for a ride that may not come!

When I came back from China, btw, I bought a bike — mainly for exercise. Sa awa ng Dios, di nagtagal ninakaw! Proponents of the bike-to-work idea better think ahead about secured parking at places of work, of theft, and of facilities for shower and change of clothes, etc.

Before the Covid pandemic, MMDA also had this grand program of devoting one lane on EDSA for motorcycles (not bicycles), painting it differently and putting overhead signs/icons to designate it.

What ever happened to that motorcycle lane? It seems to have been forgotten after such great effort and expense. Will the bike lane (aside from the motorcycle lane?) suffer the same fate when things return to pre-pandemic times or when the stormy wet weather comes upon us?

Before the MMDA and DoTr experts drag us to their new bike lane on EDSA, those questions should be answered.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 23, 2020)

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