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Continuing transport woes

/ 05:25 AM December 04, 2017

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

This is the appropriate response to the statement of Department of Transportation (DOTr) Assistant Secretary for Railways John Batan in a recent forum that the administration aims to complete more than 320 kilometers of railway projects in Luzon and Mindanao by 2022.

Once completed, the country’s existing railway network, which once operated from Manila to La Union province in the north and Legazpi City in the Bicol region, will quadruple.

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The projects also include the extension of the present Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) systems to areas adjacent to Metro Manila. These are currently being undertaken by private companies.

According to Batan, the projects would cost around P1 trillion, which represents a big chunk of the P8 trillion that the administration is allocating for its “Build, Build, Build” program.

The DOTr’s announcement has a familiar ring to it. Except for some additions, the projects conform to the infrastructure program that then President Benigno Aquino III promised to initiate and complete during his term.

But unlike the Aquino administration’s reliance on public private partnership (PPP) arrangements to accomplish its infrastructure objectives, President Duterte wants the government to play a major role in this undertaking to avoid a repeat of the legal controversies that marked (and delayed) the completion of several PPP-based projects.

No doubt, the infrastructure projects promised by the Duterte administration are superb, at least on paper. They’re long overdue. The country’s mass transportation system is in the pits. Every administration that came to power since the end of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986 promised to solve this problem.

If work on the P1 trillionworth of railway projects proceeds without any hitches, the public can look forward to efficient transportation systems in the country’s major cities and provinces by the end of President Duterte’s term.

There is nothing wrong with DOTr making public its infrastructure projects, but it should not go overboard with the publicity hype. Raising false hopes about forthcoming improved transportation systems may result in deep frustration by the public in case the projects fail to take off or are inordinately delayed.

It will be recalled that the Aquino administration was gung ho when its officials announced its infrastructure projects. The PPP projects received a lot of media publicity.

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Unfortunately, when the Aquino administration exited in 2016, the only project that can be credited to it from start to finish was the 4-kilometer long Muntinlupa-Cavite Expressway. The rest were either pending public bidding, subject of litigation, or still undergoing construction.

The Duterte administration does not have the luxury of time to complete the promised infrastructure projects. It has approximately four years and six months left in its term.

Time moves so fast that before we know it 2022 is here. And if we factor in the public works ban before the 2018 local elections, the timeframe for those projects is even shorter.

So much for the future, but what about the present? MRT and LRT continue to be plagued by operational problems that have seen coaches stopping in the middle of the tracks and passengers forced to get off and walk along the rails to get to the nearest station.

Hardly a day passes without either the MRT or LRT suffering glitches that are traceable to mismanagement, poor maintenance and technical inefficiency.

For lack of a suitable alternative, the public continues to bear with the troubles and inconveniences of the MRT and LRT. In other countries, the same deplorable conditions would have resulted in violent protests and the resignation of top officials.

It is a tribute to the Filipino’s innate sense of patience that something similar has not yet happened here. The administration, however, should not delude itself into believing that this virtue is limitless because the consequences of inaction can be serious.

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TAGS: Business, Department of Transportation (DOTr) Assistant Secretary for Railways John Batan, Railways
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