Bus operators asked why the government cannot rid the roads of “colorum” buses, why it allowed the number of vehicles to bloat beyond the roads’ capacity, why it targets public utility buses instead of the more numerous private vehicles.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Did bus operators conduct a transport strike last Nov 15 or not? Do they have a right to strike, in the first place? If they did, what is their commensurate “punishment’? Is bus coding system the answer to congested, polluted Metro Manila roads? After allowing the number of buses to bloat beyond Edsa’s capacity, can the government now just strip the franchises of some bus operators?
All these and more have been surfacing since Metro Manila residents suffered from a lack of buses last Nov 15 during the first day of implementation of the Metro Manila Development Authority’s (MMDA) proposal to include public utility buses in the coverage of the number coding system.
The Land Transport Franchising Regulatory Board said they would send “show cause” orders to some 74 bus operators plying Metro Manila routes beginning Monday November 22regarding their participation in the “alleged transport strike” two Mondays ago (Nov 15.) Even as bus operators deny that they conducted a strike, the MMDA said they checked the garages of the different bus lines and discovered that operators dispatched a limited number of buses, with some not dispatching any bus at all.
The “alleged strike” occurred as bus operators protested the lack of consultation in the MMDA’s implementation of the coding system covering public utility buses. “What they did was presentation, not consultation,” stressed Ms Arlene Camello of the Metro Manila Bus Operators Association (MMBOA) in a meeting of the House of Representatives’ transport committee last Tuesday (Nov 22).
Camello said the government, through the MMDA,informed bus operators only last October about the decision of the Metro Manila Council approving the MMDA recommendation to re-include the public utility buses in the coverage of the Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP). It thus revised the earlier guidelines for implementing the UVVR.
The sharing of information, said Camello, had been listed under “other matters” in a meeting of bus operators called for by the MMDA. The meeting’s agenda had been about towing. The lawyers of the MMDA, Rochelle Makapili and Ma. Risa Celis, asserted that there had been consultations and that they had adequately informed bus operators – the inclusion of buses in the number coding system had been reportedly tackled by the parties at the beginning of the UVVRP. The congressional transport committee also agreed that the 15-minute presentation is “already consultation” in so far as giving the operators a chance to discuss the matter.
Bus operators said they would have wanted a deeper consultation on the matter. In fact, they said, even before the MMDA “discussed” the matter with them, they have been requesting for an audience to tackle the traffic problem. “We have written letters to the Metro Manila Council requesting for an audience to tackle the problem of too many vehicles and too much traffic, but we were never granted that,” Camello said.
The bus operators’ “alleged transport strike” coincided with the return from Japan by President Aquino, who reportedly got irked by such welcome and threatened bus operators with cancellation of franchises. Following the alleged strike, threats of franchise cancellations indeed rang out from government agencies that oversee transportation.
The sending of show-cause orders beginning this week and “invitations” to bus operators to explain themselves before the LTFRB were direct results of the MMDA investigations and President Aquino’s threats against the participants of the transport holiday.
This time, not only the bus drivers but the bus operators themselves are being described as “abusive and undisciplined”. In fact, the last transport committee meeting was almost postponed with punitive agreements by its congressmen members to issue “arrest orders” and contempt charges against summoned bus operators who did not show up for their meeting.
Practically No Right To Strike
Do public utility buses have a right to strike? LTFRB’s Dante Atienza did not categorically answer but replied that their franchise is a privilege “imbued with social responsibilities.” Not following through with that, he said, “will be construed as a strike.”
Amid threats of sanctions such as outright cancellation of their franchises, no bus operator to this day has come out to categorically say they held a strike last Nov 15.
Strike or not, thousands of motorists had been stranded that Monday, prompting some schools to cancel classes. In the days that followed and amid threats to their franchises, the bus operators said they have been complying with the bus coding system. But they wish the government would look at the root causes of the problem. Buses and vehicles did not multiply in number overnight. All of them passed through government agencies – from importation to registration. Why are they allowed to multiply beyond the capacity of the roads?
Sandy Hachoso, convener of Kabisig, an alliance of Metro Manila bus drivers and conductors, told Bulatlat that traffic seemed just as worse despite the bus coding system. The same observation was aired by some congressmen in the House Committee on Transportation meeting.