Driver, ‘boundary’ caused bus crash
To say that a tire blowout caused a bus to fall into a ravine, killing 34 riders this week, is to absolve the true culprits. It's no different from shrugging that the brakes failed in another ghastly bus crash last February, and countless fatal collisions. Promoting such lame excuses multiply road deaths.
Survivors said the Leomarick provincial bus was speeding through the treacherous Nueva Ecija mountain pass that Tuesday morning. It had just rained; the road was slippery. The driver was overtaking another bus on a curve when he lost control of the wheel. He yelled, “Nawalan ng preno (I lost the brakes),” as he tried to scrape the bus against roadside houses to stop it. Then the front-right tire exploded, flinging the bus off the cliff.
The bus also was overloaded. Classified as “minibus,” it could seat only 55 persons. Yet there were 78 aboard, including the driver, one of the fatalities. Eleven passengers were standing crouched under the low roof; some were on the steps clinging to the climb-bars outside the open doors. Disaster was waiting to happen, and it did. The tire gave way under the excessive load, the brakes couldn’t stop the momentum on time, the wet road lessened the tire traction.
Humans, not machines, cause speeding and overloading. Drivers break speed limits out of ignorance and recklessness. Unaware of perils, they speed on curves under the rain, and are deaf to emergencies. There are no safety courses when getting a driving license. Bribes and bluster are all the Land Transport Office requires from applicants. The Panda Tours driver that slammed his bus on a lamppost February, killing 15 and maiming 50 students onboard, is a prime example of dumbness and carelessness combined. The brakes already were defective the day before, as it reeked of burnt pads in ferrying earlier field-trippers. Still the driver proceeded the next dawn with a second batch, merrily speeding 80 km from Quezon City to hilly Rizal province, ignoring the same stench.
Bus drivers and conductors overload because expected to under the vile “boundary” system. They receive paltry pay from bus operators, and augment it with commissions from the fare. As more riders mean more income, they naturally ignore load limits. The new rule to have alternate drivers for journeys that exceed six hours exacerbates the “boundary’s” rottenness. It makes the drivers overload all the more, since there are now two of them to share the commission. As greedy to make a quick buck, operators also stint on mechanics and spare parts. Smoke-belching, broken windows, and unfixed dents are telltale signs that the operator and driver don’t care, so the bus likely has worse hidden deadly disrepair.
What to do? First, focus on the problem of bad drivers and slick “boundary” operators. Officials needlessly ask the operator first, after a bus crash, if he’d bankroll the casualties’ hospitalization or burial. The operating franchise already requires that of him. Officials also divert the issue, like banning any more school fieldtrips in the wake of the Rizal disaster. That’s foolish.
The LTO once and for all must retest all professional drivers, for proficiency, neuropsychiatry, and plain road courtesy. Recently a trucker unrepentantly insisted it was all the fault of the grandma he had run over dead. The victim had continued crossing the pedestrian lane even as the truck, horn blaring, roared down the hospital-courthouse silence zone. The driver had just upgraded from a tricycle to a 14-wheeler, with no schooling. And the LTO, on renewing his license, even extended the validity to five years with no testing.
The Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board must scrap the “boundary.” The system induces drivers’ indiscipline and operators’ negligence. Abolition surely would be the first suggestion from a transport-safety board, roadworthiness awards, and ISO certifications that lawmakers are advocating.
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Railways Usec. Cesar Chavez doubts that summer heat is causing daily breakdowns of the MRT-3 commuter line. In four years as assistant boss at the sister-LRT-1 and -2 in the 2000s, he had never heard that alibi before. Likely it’s sloppy upkeep.
MRT-3 and its maintenance contractor blamed the sudden train stoppages to this week's onset of hot weather. In news videos MRT-3 operations-in-charge Deo Leo Manalo and Busan Universal Rail Inc. head Eugene Rapanut gave similar explanations. Supposedly the train components wear out faster and the grease of bogey wheels seems inapt.
MRT-3 has been chugging since 2000, yet only now under them are the trains roiling in summer. Manalo, formerly with the mother Dept. of Transport, became MRT-3 OIC-maintenance, then OIC-general manager, then OIC-operations within six months beginning September. Rapanut’s BURI became the three-year upkeep contractor starting Jan. 2016.
Under scrutiny is if BURI buys the right spare parts and does the right works, Chavez said in separate broadcasts. Its monthly P54.5-million billings have been put on hold since October, pending submission of requisite documents. Among those are for orders, deliveries, acceptance, quality checks, and installation of parts. No papers, no payments, Chavez re-imposed the rule that past DOTr-MRT-3 officials had broken.
In cooler climes months ago a BURI lawyer talked engineering, claiming that incompatible Czech-made trains and tracks caused twice-to-thrice daily conk-outs. There was no word, though, why the 48 new Chinese trains are inoperable. Manalo was expansion project manager and Rapanut the broker when DOTr indented the Chinese units in 2013.
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