Malilong: The return of the kings of the road

·3 min read

IN JULY at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in Cebu, we enjoyed clear blue skies. From a vantage point, we could see the island of Bohol.

The air was fresher, too. It would have been a good time to go outdoors and enjoy the rare gift of a smogless morning, were it not for the fear, rational or not, of inhaling the virus.

And those who were fortunate to drive along our streets despite the quarantine swore that driving had become a pleasant experience again. The usual daily gridlocks that used to make your temper boil were gone and travel that used to take you an hour (if you were lucky) seemed much shorter.

That was also the time when the economy - and our lives - slowed to a standstill. Factories and offices were closed, business was allowed only for essential goods, we were caged in our homes and the only vehicles that were permitted on the streets were police cars, including at one point armored personnel carriers, ambulances, and those that transported Apors, short for authorized persons outside residence, and some privileged others.

I wish we would have the chance of savoring cleaner air in the city, a stress-free drive and the sight of beautiful Bohol from a vantage point without having to trade off our freedom from fear of harm to our lives. Last Saturday, I finally had the chance to sneak out and meet with friends in a farmhouse about 20 kilometers from our home. The trip told me to stop dreaming. The streets were again overflowing with vehicles. And to think that there were no jeepneys yet at that time.

Yesterday, I read that they will be back soon. Not all, just 1,720 of them. The kings of the road will be back, those ubiquitous contraptions that were the staple of every street user’s daily life. The streets are going to get even merrier. Sigh.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we should forever banish the PUJs off our streets. There’s a family, not just a driver, behind that wheel. They need food on the table, shelter over their heads and clothes to cover their bodies. They have as much right to earn a living as anyone.

But maybe, the PUJ task force could have done better than unloosing 1,720 of them in one blow. It’s just like pouring a gallon of water into the mouth of a dehydrated man. Couldn’t they have done it in batches of say, 200? That would have given them a chance to study the matter more thoroughly and make adjustments, if necessary.

This is specially so since there is supposed to be a plan to phase out the PUJs and replace them with a traffic-friendly mass transport system. Unless, the plan has changed, scheduling the deployment of jeepneys in batches would have provided them the opportunity to study the economic and social impact of the proposed phaseout. Things like what employment opportunities can you offer a displaced jeepney driver, for example.

And since we’re already on it, I would like to ask this question: what is happening to the proposal to set up bus rapid transport system and the other components in the Department of Transportation’s basket of traffic solutions for Cebu City? I know we had a setback because of the pandemic but are the plans still on? If so, where are we now?

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