POSTSCRIPT / May 31, 2020 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Another EDSA bus system experiment

EXPERIENCE a “New Abnormal” on Epifanio delos Santos Avenue starting tomorrow, the first day of another traffic experiment in the unending search for an efficient system for motor vehicles plying Metro Manila’s main transportation artery.

Buses will be back on EDSA as the metropolis shifts into a more relaxed General Community Quarantine. But departing from the Old Normal, instead of crawling by the curbside, the buses will run in the inner lanes beside the median where the MRT-3 track is.

Don’t dash across EDSA to catch the buses! Look for the proper paths to the loading areas that until yesterday were being rushed for commuters impatient to go back to their jobs and old routine despite the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic raging in their midst.

The experiment assigns the buses to one or two dedicated inner lanes where they can run unimpeded like a chain of coaches of a train. Earlier, a proponent from the business sector swore he has seen the system work in cities abroad.

We wonder what would happen at the underpasses such as those in Cubao, at P. Tuazon and Shaw Blvd. where the buses will have to cram themselves into three lanes with other vehicles.

And how will the crisscrossing traffic be managed at Ortigas where southbound vehicles turning left to go east will cut through the exclusive southbound busway? Will stop-go traffic lights be installed or traffic officers assigned there to direct the alternating flow?

* When northbound buses emerge from the Shaw underpass will they quickly bear right (violating several lanes) to go to the SM Megamall loading bay — or will the busy bay be closed and a new loading area be created in the median farther north?

We threw these questions to Eddie Yap, an advocate of the busway scheme, who is chair of the national affairs committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines and former chair of the national issues committee and traffic and transportation committee of the Management Association of the Philippines.

“These are challenges, but not insurmountable,” Yap said referring to the tight situations cited. “An efficient busway should require only one lane except at the loading stations where two lanes are needed — one for local buses and a second for express buses, or P2Ps, to overtake.”

Have the operators of the initial 300-500 buses participating in the experiment installed left-side doors on their units? (Passengers will have to board on the left side if the buses use the innermost lane.)

Yap said the retrofitting of left-side doors will follow in Phase 2 when the loading platforms are built at the center islands. He said this should happen before the busy Christmas season. Meantime the buses will still use their present right-side doors.

We have received reports that bus operators are being asked to form a consortium and paint their units a common color or design, in a scheme reminiscent of the “Love Buses” that then-first lady Imelda Marcos, the Metro Manila governor at the time, had introduced.

Yap said: “From what I heard from the DoTr team with whom I am in close contact, most operators already agreed to form groups among themselves and for specific routes, which are being restructured.”

Reader Daniel O. Escasa, a technologist and writer, said in an email that retrofitting the buses with left-side doors will not be necessary if the buses are made to counterflow.

Furthermore, he pointed out, “there are already several stops along EDSA that have footbridges, which can be modified so passengers can use them to cross to the center island.”

Like other readers, he called attention to the underpasses (“ilalim”) as at the intersection of Shaw Blvd. and overpasses (“ibabaw”) as at Ortigas and Santolan/Crame, to name two. He said: “Those are a little trickier, although I believe people smarter than me can think of ways.”

In the televised late Monday night meeting of President Duterte with the Inter-Agency Task Force managing government responses to the COVID crisis, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade mentioned the new EDSA bus scheme when he reported on his department’s efforts.

For guidance, he said: “While the mandate of the DoTr is to provide transportation, mobility and convenience, it is now also vested with the responsibility to help in preventing the spread of the coronavirus… Our approach will be partial, gradual, calculated, and by phases.”

Tugade said his department was overseeing a “bus augmentation system” of 300 to 500 buses plying a dedicated busway on EDSA that would “make up for limited train capacities.”

On the first day of GCQ, he said, “We can put into operation our trains and rails. Simulations have begun, seating and queueing have been marked. Don’t expect that train operation will be 100 percent. We have to balance our mandate to curb the spread of the virus. Therefore, the capacity will also be limited, gradual, and calculated.”

The buses and light rail systems will carry a reduced number of passengers in keeping with the social distancing rule still in force. He said the replacement of the worn-out MRT-3 rails will make possible a train speed of up to 60 kilometers per hour by December.

He also reported that his department was working with the Metro Manila Development Authority on establishing bicycle lanes. If the plan works on EDSA, he said, it will be replicated in other suitable places.

On the Land Transportation Office, he said its efficiency would be enhanced with the full digitization of its operation.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 31, 2020)

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