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Bacolod City, Philippines Tuesday, September 5, 2017
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Come to think of it
with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia



As someone whose home is in Silay City but lives mostly in Bacolod City, quality public transportation is an ongoing concern. I dream of the day that I don't have to personally drive, find a driver, or find a ride with family members every time my kids need to go to Bacolod and that is why I am always on the lookout for new options whenever I'm on the road.

One such new option that my wife and I have always found intriguing was that 515 or 516 Ceres transit bus that seems to ply the Bacolod Victorias route. It intrigues us because it looks like a modern first world commuter bus service that you'd find in Singapore. For those who haven't seen this bus, it isn't very hard to miss. Unlike the usual Ceres coaches with the usual seating configuration we are all familiar with, this type of buses have larger doors, less luggage space, and more legal standing-passenger space than the usual coach bus aisles. It is also easy to tell apart because of its more boxy shape.

Ever since I saw this bus ply my route more than half a year ago, I have always wanted to try it out. It looked new, clean, comfy and first-worldy. My only problem was that because we are dyed-in-the-wool Silaynon, we have already set up our lives to be more or less independent of public transportation. We schedule our trips, avoid unnecessary trips, and even pool our trips with family members if possible. Aside from that, we didn't know if this sort of bus service had a schedule so we could plan a trip to Bacolod based on that schedule.

A Silaynon like me would really appreciate improvements in our public transportation system. We invest in cars and rely on our close family ties to minimize the costs and effort of going to Bacolod safely, efficiently and reliably but it would do us a world of good if public transport could someday give us all of the above. The jeepney and the minibus have always been there but they are neither safe nor comfortable. A few years ago, when aircon vans made a splash, my wife and I occasionally tried it too but they were basically glorified jeepneys where the seating arrangement is cramped to say the least. This would explain why the sight of the newish transit bus was especially intriguing for me.

So the other weekend when I had to pick up our car from servicing, my wife decided to go with me and go on a field trip to try and catch that elusive bus experience.

We walked to the highway from the house. After crossing the highway, we walked a bit more, allowing other Ceres buses, minibuses and jeepneys to pass because we had decided that we were willing to wait for our dream bus. Luck was with us that day when we saw its distinct shape heading our way just as we were approaching the waiting-shed-cum-bus/jeepney stop. We flagged it down and hopped on as soon as the mid-section doors opened.

Unsurprisingly, it was nothing like a jeepney or minibus and just as we expected a transit bus to be. It was just starting to get crowded but we managed to snag seats at the forward half of the bus.

The bus was relatively clean and the aircon was relatively cool. We paid P20 each for the comfortable and easy trip from Silay to the Ceres Bacolod North terminal. I reckon it would've cost us P50 in gasoline to cover the same distance in our family car. We then took a Grab Car from the terminal to our final destination, hailing our ride via the app as our bus was approaching the terminal. All in all, if it only had a more predictable schedule, I would do it again or even have my kids take it if they had to go to Bacolod on a weekend morning and I was too lazy to drive them.

My only complaint with the bus service, aside from the lack of an easily accessible schedule if one does exist, is despite its modern looks and amenities, was that it is still being operated very much like a jeepney. The bus still stopped every time it saw a passenger, opening its big doors before hand and letting much of the air-conditioning out. I know it's a long shot to ask the bus company and the passengers to start adopting bus stops and schedules, maybe even tap card or chipped payment options, the way it is done in first world countries. When all was said and done, I comforted myself with the fact that I rode a new type of bus on the road between Bacolod and Silay. Hopefully it will be more first-worldy by the time my children start commuting.

I used to dread commuting here in Negros. It is generally unsafe, uncomfortable, smelly and crowded. The new transit buses are giving me hope that things can still change. I enjoyed my experience and am actually looking forward for more opportunities to use the service again, as long as it is cost effective and convenient. From the developments that we have been experiencing in this industry, things are finally looking up.

Kudos goes to the people of Ceres for this type of bus service. I hope it can be steadily improved and popularized until it becomes the norm for intercity public transport within the Metro Bacolod area very soon. With a world-class intra-metro bus service and access to better a quality jeepney equivalent or ride sharing services, my family might not need to depend on cars and driving so much anymore.

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