Last Wednesday (March 1), commuters in San Pedro City, Laguna woke up to “stunning” news: Cher Transport, one of the city’s largest homegrown bus companies, has been bought out.
The first sign of trouble, for me, was the sudden absence of their bus units at their Pacita Complex terminal Wednesday morning.
Then, sometime in the afternoon, some friends of mine who, like me, were bus enthusiasts, began sharing photos in social media about Cher Transport allegedly being taken over by JAC Liner, one of Southern Luzon’s largest bus conglomerates.
During the “general community quarantine,” when the JAC Liner group had virtually monopolized San Pedro City’s bus routes under the old Bus Route Rationalization scheme, it had “borrowed” Cher Transport’s terminal at Pacita Complex as its base in the city.
Imagine our surprise when it turned out it wasn’t just the terminal that JAC Liner has decided to take over but also the entire operations of Cher Transport!
The JAC Liner group was, in fact, known among our bus enthusiasts' circle for its sudden "buyouts" of other bus companies in the past.
That was how they managed to penetrate the Northern Luzon area, with its purchase of Pangasinan-based De Leon Express in 2012 and Fermina Express and Dagupan Bus Co. in 2015.
And just last year, we’re in for a shock when JAC Liner also bought out JAM Liner, one of the oldest bus companies in Laguna province.
With the “Bus Route Rationalization” that was implemented for nearly two years (which literally chopped up once-profitable bus routes in Metro Manila), smaller bus companies who were forced to suspend operations due to two months of the enhanced community quarantine struggled to recoup their losses, never mind make a profit.
And even when most bus routes were brought back last year (although almost all routes no longer had to pass through EDSA), socio-economic changes had meant that most Lagunenses would rather work home (or close to it) rather than go back to the “hellish” commute of the “old normal.”
This made small bus companies especially vulnerable to large bus conglomerates which have managed to survive the two long years of the Covid-19 pandemic.
And for me and my bus enthusiast friends, bus monopolies are a worrying trend.
Take a look at what's happened in Mindanao, where some routes have been completely monopolized by the Yanson Group of Bus Companies (under Rural Transit and Bachelor Express).
Some commuters say the monopolization of bus routes in Mindanao not only meant these companies could levy higher fares or limit the number of buses plying through their routes, but that commuters were also left vulnerable to the stoppage of these routes.
Remember that struggle among the Yanson family members for control of the Vallacar Transit group a few years back which nearly left their companies, their employees, and commuters in limbo?
That trend, unfortunately, is about to happen now here in Laguna province – and I believe that commuters will also be at the losing end.