If there’s one positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s to reduce the horrible traffic along the nearly 24-km EDSA, Metro Manila’s main thoroughfare, straddling at least five cities, at least for the past two years.
Now, with lockdowns and mobility restrictions a thing of the past with the pandemic easing up and the World Health Organization optimistic the deadly disease could be declared just an endemic, heavy traffic along EDSA has returned, with more private vehicles being monitored there than even before COVID-19.
To rationalize traffic along the vital artery, the Metro Manila Development Authority experimented with the EDSA Carousel that keeps buses along the innermost lanes in both directions.
This was a bold step as buses were confined to the outermost lanes before COVID-19.
Now, the EDSA Carousel, or the EDSA busway, is considered a welcome development as it has streamlined commuting by bus along EDSA.
With the rehabilitated MRT-3 spanning almost the entire length of EDSA, the busway, and the MRT-7 awaiting completion, we may yet see significantly reduced heavy Metro traffic during rush hours, if only private motorists would use the two modes of public transport instead of clogging the avenue with their sheer numbers.
But the EDSA busway is government-operated, and there are now growing calls for it to be run by the private sector as this would make its operations supposedly more efficient, at least in theory.
Some 30 organizations comprising different business groups, trade unions, and private sector associations are backing the privatization of the EDSA Busway.
They are urging immediate changes in ownership and control of one of Metro Manila’s most used public transportation systems.
“To expeditiously carry this work-in-progress project forward to its completion in accordance with global standards, as laudably committed by Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista, we strongly urge and fully support its privatization, conformably with PPP (public-private partnership) process and under concession terms beneficial to all concerned,” read a joint endorsement letter made public by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) recently.
The 30 groups backing the effort include: Agriwatch Inc., American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Anvil Business Club, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc., Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Foundation For Economic Freedom, IT-Business Process Association of the Philippines, Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship Foundation-Go Negosyo, and the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants, among others.
They represent a broad section of the urban population.
“The EDSA busway system provides an opportunity for the government to upgrade the country’s public transportation system, despite the challenges posed by severe fiscal constraints brought by the pandemic,” their joint letter read.
“It is high time that the government and the private sector join hands to provide the critical components that are needed to complete the busway system and finally put an end to the daily scenario in which thousands of commuters wait in long queues in overcrowded stations while enduring unnecessary pains and hardships,” it added.
It’s a compelling argument, and we agree completely with their stand.
After all, the busway system carried an average of 325,000 passengers daily in August 2022, with only 550 buses committed to its operations.
But what if the pre-pandemic level of 3,300 units were fielded along the busway?
Will this vastly improve the public transport system and cut the present end-to-end travel time on EDSA of one-and-a-half hours to perhaps less than an hour?
We really don’t know at this point, but the wait shouldn’t be that long.