MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - An estimated 5,000 commuters were stranded in major thoroughfares in Metro Manila due to a bus strike on Monday.
The Metro Manila Development Authority said most of the affected commuters were in the Commonwealth area in Quezon City and were far from the Metro Rail and Light Rail Transits.
The Department of Transportation and Communications said it plans to investigate which bus groups joined the strike.
Monday morning traffic on EDSA was unusually light after local bus operators made good on their threat to keep their buses from plying their regular routes to protest the implementation of the number coding scheme for passenger buses. More than 3,000 buses or about 70 percent of all buses plying Metro Manila reportedly took part in the strike.
Among the groups that earlier agreed to participate in the strike are the Integrated Metropolitan Bus Operators Association, Inter-City Bus Operators Association and the Metro Bus Transport Club Inc.
Under the number coding scheme, buses that have license plates ending in 1 and 2 are banned on EDSA on Mondays; 3 and 4 on Tuesdays; 5 and 6 on Wednesdays; 7 and 8 on Thursdays, and, 9 and 0 on Fridays.
Provincial buses prohibited from plying their routes will be stopped from entering Metro Manila at all entry points, including the North Luzon and South Luzon Expressways.
The MMDA said around 13,000 provincial and city buses will be affected by the scheme, 1,000 of them on a daily basis.
The MMDA said it cannot say yet whether the goal of number coding to reduce traffic volume was met. Earlier this morning, heavy traffic was reported along Commonwealth Avenue due to the sheer volume of stranded passengers on the street.
The MMDA said that while they had response teams stationed in 15 points, there was a delay because the vehicles providing free rides had to travel from other locations. The MMDA assured though that they will be more prepared later, during rush hour traffic at 5pm.
Private vehicles' fault
In an interview, MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino said he turned down bus operators' request to hold off the implementation of the number coding scheme. "I told the bus operators I cannot stop the implementation because this is a decision of the Metro Manila mayors. My directive is to implement," he said.
He said the military and MMDA deployed its own buses to help ferry stranded passengers on Commonwealth Avenue, Balintawak, Magallanes and Roxas Boulevard to their places of work. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board also issued special permits to Cavite bus operators to go to Commonwealth to help stranded passengers there.
Jehu Sebastian, president of the Provincial Bus Operators Association, said the MMDA did not conduct a thorough study of the number coding scheme before implementing it. He said he asked MMDA to allow their group to deploy 80% of their fleet on weekdays instead of depending on the number coding proposal.
He said a lot of passenger buses have license plates that end in the numbers 1, 2 and 8, which means that they will have to stop their buses from plying their routes on Mondays and Thursdays.
Sebastian also complained about LTFRB's decision ordering bus operators to decommission 15-year-old buses.
"The operators bought new buses with the understanding that they can use it for 6 days a week. Now with the number coding, it is down to 5. How will operators pay for those new buses if they remove 1 day of earnings?" he said.
Sebastian also suggested that the MMDA identify only a single lane on EDSA for cars that have only 1 passenger. "Dun na lang sila magsiksikan tutal maayayaman naman sila," he said.
For his part, president Homer Mercado of the South Luzon Bus Operators Association said the MMDA should just issue special cards that would cut by 20% the number of buses plying EDSA.