Sunday, August 17, 2014

DOTC cannot fix anything

This is my column today, August 17, 2014.


A friend who swears by folk beliefs thinks that we have accumulated quite an enormous backlog of negative karma in the last two years that the ghosts  that are supposed to be rampaging around this time of the year (we are right smack in the middle of the Ghost Month according to the Chinese calendar) are being particularly harder on us.  She thinks that Wednesday’s accident involving a MRT train that got derailed, crashed into a barrier, and barreled down on to street level of a very busy intersection last Wednesday, hurting scores of people and stranding tens of thousands of commuters, was just a harbinger of more unfortunate events that will unfold.  I told her I wished that the complications we face as a country and as a people were truly that easy to unravel and diagnose.  Hungry ghosts we can pacify with offerings of food and prayers. But what do we do with problems caused by a government agency that is simply unable to fix anything?
The efforts of the Transportation and Communications Department to ascertain what really happened last Wednesday are futile.  We all know what caused the MRT accident—any person with a rudimentary background in production planning could easily tell us that what happened was an accident that was waiting to happen.  The MRT system has been groaning from being overstretched for years now, it’s actually surprising that the system is still working.  We all knew that the trains have been overworked and that the system has been dangerously operating at more than double capacity for quite sometime now. 
We have also known for almost three years now that the current leadership at the Transportation Department has been incompetent—they have been unable to fix anything since they assumed office. 
The problems of the MRT have been there since they assumed office.  And yet, nothing has been done except make appeals for people to be patient as we wait for additional trains to arrive.  There have been no alternatives nor palliative measures offered.  Not even electric fans at congested MRT stations, or aides to speed up the queuing process.
The problems related to heavy traffic on the Manila runways have been there since the current administration took office.  There were lots of talk about enabling other airports in the country to operate at night to decongest the Ninoy Aquino International Airport runways at daytime and about other programs that were supposedly going to be implemented.  Guess what, flights are still delayed because traffic in and out of the NAIA is still very heavy. 
And then there’s the problem of the NAIA Terminal being the worst in the world.  This was already a source of embarrassment for the country as early as five years ago.  Local designers proposed a design and a plan and even volunteered their services for free—a gracious gesture that was unfortunately thumbed down by the administration.  Not only is the NAIA Terminal still the ugliest airport in the world, it has also recently gained reputation as the hottest spot in the planet—worse that the Sahara Desert, which is at least cooler at night.  It’s been almost one year since the airconditioning units at the terminal conked out and relief is still not within sight.
 But then again, we are probably being unreasonable here because this is a Department that has not been able to fix a problem that is probably the easiest to fix– the availability of plate numbers and stickers for new vehicles.  A few months ago, the Department went to town with pictures of the supposedly new plate numbers that are supposedly (again) tamper proof and easy to track.  Those are really great metrics to aspire for, but meeting a much simpler expectation is probably more important—availability.
 Because of the rank inefficiency and incompetence, the Transportation Department and the Land Transportation Office have decreed that those applying for registration of new vehicles cannot request for plate numbers that end in certain numbers.  Everyone will just have to accept whatever plate number the government releases.  This puts people with limited means at a disadvantage because they can end up with two cars they cannot use on the same day due to the vehicle reduction scheme.  Those with the means can work around the limitation by simply trading their cars or buying new cars.  There’s a really simple logic to the problem and the solution is very obvious and simple, but we’re dealing with an agency that is just unable to make things work.
 Are we really surprised the traffic situation has not improved and that our problems related to transportation has gotten worse?

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