'Proposals to privatize EDSA Busway Carousel still far off'

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
'Proposals to privatize EDSA Busway Carousel still far off'
Commuters lined up at an EDSA bus carousel terminal along Monumento in Caloocan City on Tuesday morning (June 7, 2022). Some motorists also opted to take public transportation following the recent round of fuel increases.
The STAR / Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Transportation said it was "open" to calls for a privatized EDSA Busway Carousel, but actual movement in the proposals are still far off.

This, as the government asks for a feasibility study first while the private sector disagrees on the framework of a possible concession in the future. 

At a roundtable consultation meeting organized by the Management Association of the Philippines on Friday, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said he was still listening to all stakeholders, but highlighted the need for a feasibility study. 

"This is what we will do. We will seek help from experts like the PPP center. We will consider everything that we have discussed, but we have to define the terms of reference that will determine what we really want," he said. 

This came after MAP Governor-in-Charge Eduardo Yap pointed to high commuter demand and fiscal constraints on the part of the government as reasons why it should consider the private sector to execute the project, calling it the "only solution we have" to EDSA traffic woes alongside the MRT-3. 

"The benefits from this busway up to global standards are quite manifold because this busway is the most effective urban mass transport system...the return on investment is very high, and the reasons are quite compelling. We need to complete this busway as fast as possible," Yap said in mixed Filipino and English. 

"The problem is not in the busway concept, but on the limited capacity that cannot match the high demand. So that is the case for privatization."

Government plans amid privatization proposals

To ease the burden of commuters amid fuel increases, President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. extended the run of subsidized free rides for commuters until December this year, which transport advocates say only drove up demand without increasing capacity.

At the meeting Friday, Transportation Undersecretary Mark Steven Pastor told PPP experts and stakeholders that accessible infrastructure will be set up in the busways stations along EDSA in the coming years.

DOTr engineer and project planner Joshua Joseph Rodriguez also said that, as it stands, 406 bus units run the median lane from PITX to Monumento daily out of a maximum allocation of 550 buses in total.

In the future, the LTFRB plans to add 100 units to the busway, putting the total number of units to 650. The further improvements under the national government will allow the system to carry around 500,000 passengers per day from the current 335,000 as of August, he said. The DOTr did not provide a timetable for these plans. 

But the bottom line, according to Yap, is that even with the proposed improvements on the part of the government, the EDSA Busway Carousel is still far from international standards.

MAP earlier urged the transportation department to upgrade the system of the EDSA Busway and bus service on the “Carousel Line”, as well as to consider privatizing it along with the commuter rail systems. This, as practically every station along the busway line sees nightly crowds caused by queues of unserved commuters waiting for a ride. 

Viable modes of privatization uncertain

Ed Francisco, President at BDO Capital & Investment Corp., admitted that scenarios outside of full privatization where investment can be recovered are still largely unclear along the busway, pointing to the number of possible permutations. 

Transportation Undersecretary Ruben Reinoso Jr. questioned the sustainability of a privatization scheme given the political nature of fare-setting, calling attention to improvements yet to be made along the Metro Rail Transit-Line 3 as well.

"At a certain point in time, what would be the real incentive for the private sector to invest on heavy maintenance and other heavy infrastructure for a busway system?...We're looking at EDSA here so we should still be looking at other options available," he said, urging proponents to still present detailed feasibility studies on the merit of privatizing the metro's first attempt at bus rapid transit.  

The immediate plan proposed in the MAP's initial letter to the DOTr — and the usual model in many PPP projects — is for private operators to take on the operational maintenance while government agencies handle the infrastructure end.

"The project is still marred in a bureaucratic maze. So that's why I think if the concession will only be for the operations and management and then the concessionaire will depend on the government for the infrastructure, kawawa," Yap said. 




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