Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Van Revolution

They’re everywhere! From Legaspi to Naga or even Manila. From Cubao to Sorsogon, Iloilo to Kalibo and onwards to Caticlan, Davao to GenSan, SM Cebu to Cordova, Tacloban to anywhere in Samar or Leyte etc etc! These vans as a mode of transport in trhis country must be taking a toll on the business of buses and jeeps. Well, they better hehe!

The FX and Adventure era is slowly dissipating especially in the provinces. Different places call these vans different names like V-Hire, Shuttle, L3 (even if not) or just plainly van!

Why are many commuters patronizing these vans – even preferring them to other modes of land transport? I have lately been observing these during my travels and my take is…
  1. On some routes, these vans run non-stop without picking passengers along the way
  2. If they did, those would be just a few stops as the capacity is less than a bus or jeep
  3. They run faster than the jeep and can compete with a bus that stops everywhere
  4. Many are (still) air-conditioned unlike the jeeps or multicabs
  5. In Cebu, there is not a single aircon bus that goes north
Not everything is beautiful about these vans though. Many of these vans are “second-hand” – meaning used vehicles bought from a previous owner. Thus, being reconditioned, many of them are either dilapidating or generally just as yucky to the feel as riding a bus or jeep, not only full of passengers’ trash and liquid stains but also peppered with rusty improvisations on door handles, windows, seats even walls and ceilings! And if you have big suitcases or a lot of cargoes, you cannot fit them in these vans. Yet they prevail!

Don’t fret too, we are not originals in fielding these yuckity vans on our roads for public transport. If you have been around Malaysia and Indonesia, they’re the very same vehicles called “Bas Mini” hehe. Only, theirs are a tad older and almost all (if not all) are not air-conditioned anymore! I enjoy riding them just the same!

Now competition is doing a great new development on these van services - at least at some places. Particularly noticeable are the vans that ply the Samar and Leyte routes. As of this writing, most of the vans there would put every other city in this country to shame. In an effort to attract more business – meaning more passengers, the van companies in the region have resorted to upgrading their vehicles to newer units (Toyota Grandia) en masse to the delight of the riding public. Take note, whenever I say “many” or “a lot” in the next paragraphs that means their vans are or near the hundreds

There are three such companies with admirable number of new units. These are 1) Duptours, 2) Van-Van, and 3) Grand Tours. The first one plies many scheduled vans (sometimes even at 30min intervals) between Tacloban and Ormoc from sun-up to sun-down but so does the second company above! Both also serve Naval (Biliran), Guiuan and Borongan (Eastern Samar) and Catbalogan (Western Samar) in a seemingly head-on and cutthroat competition. Take note, their fares between Ormoc and Tacloban can either be P100 or P120 whichever way, so your fare going to a place might just be lower on your return – or vice versa hehe! Not only that, their tickets would usually bear P138 as the official fare! I asked about the inconsistent numbers and employees at both Duptours and Van-Van say its all about competition! Yey!

The third one specializes in points from/to/via Catbalogan like Catarman, Calbayog and Tacloban. And their terminal at Catbalogan City is the best everywhere in region 8. I think it is a former gas station which became a former terminal/stop of the now sluggish Philtranco before becoming the Grand Tours’ nerve center. It has been spruced up, clean, with seats for waiting passengers – even a television! And all employees are uniformed where you don’t see shirtless goon-looking nothing-to-do bastards milling around! Ambulant pasalubong vendors are not allowed to permanently or even semi-permanently settle at their premises!

Ah, I don’t know how they do it, but these three companies seem to be the “bad boys” in one aspect – that is the ‘transport hub’ concept. Like almost every other town and city in this archipelago, local government units in Catbalogan, Tacloban, Ormoc, Borongan, etc., have erected multi-million peso worth of transport terminals where every public utility vehicle is supposed to hub with everyone else. And all have cooperated except for these three big companies. That’s why they have their very own terminals in those cities! Interesting? Intriguing! I like it though as theirs are all in the center of the cities they serve!

A few more notes I have on these three companies… they have upped the concept of pre-departure amongst land transport services. Mini-vans as they are, you do not just climb in. You go to an “office” to buy your ticket and be allowed to choose your seat in a diagram containing usually 16 squares. I’m a fan of seat number 2 hehe! Then they’ll formally call you for a boarding time – and that is the cue for you to climb in and look for your seat. Improving, right? Ah, at Grand Tours, they even issue you a boarding pass upon payment. The dispatcher will retrieve it as you board in exchange for the real trip ticket! Interesting hehe!

Color-wise, Duptours has migrated their vans to all-white with just that tastefully executed logo or livery printed small on all four sides (am not sure if there is one on the roof). The other two still have the colored vans (L300s?) and you will be sure that those are old and almost dilapidating. I heard though they’re slowly being phased out. How? By being sold to smaller operators! Oh, the first two have designated inspector-stops cum pee-stations!

What’s the whole point? Well, I may have just documented the early phases of an ‘evolution’ in land travel in the Philippines?! I hope so! Because of the options available, I have observed many passengers (me inclusive) who would opt to take the next hour’s run when they see that the vans assigned on their schedules are old and ugly. And I have seen them van companies make switches when they see (or sense) that no one seem to like riding in that waiting old and ugly van hehe!

Oh that “phenomenon” in Samar and Leyte is catching up in other places. Example: about to ride a van from Legaspi to Naga, I told the dispatcher I would take the next one (a Grandia) even if the about to depart van was not yet full because it was an old and ugly L300. So I hopped unto the Grandia and whoa, it was already almost full while the old L300 still only had six passengers! And the dispatcher joked to the L300 driver that they should already change their units into newer ones. Same case at Iloilo on my way to Kalibo! And I must admit, I have yet to find newer such units in the so many GT Express ek ek in Metro Cebu and Metro Manila.

Now that’s what I call… the power of choice!

Happy trip!

1 comment :

  1. Nice blog sir, however, I would like to make a correction. Toyota Hi-ace van has two types of model, the commuter and the luxurious grandia. In region 8 there is no grandia van serving the riding public. they're all commuter.