Could the solution to EDSA be removing the MRT?

COUNTER FLOW - James Deakin - The Philippine Star

(Part 1)

Last month, August 31 to be exact, I wrote a piece calling for a state of emergency to be declared in Metro Manila, allowing the President to exercise emergency powers that could deploy the military to deal with traffic. Radical? Sure. But my reasoning was, if there was any other enemy that was costing us 2.4 billion pesos a day, we would throw everything we had at it––right?

Well, I think we can all agree that next to corruption, traffic is currently Metro Manila’s most expensive enemy. And while the chances of the government staging a military coup against itself is somewhere between zero to none, the next best thing is to use the full might of the armed forces to install discipline back on the roads and clear out all obstructions like illegally parked cars, local beauty pageants and barangay sing-offs etc from every side street around Metro Manila.

Now I’m sure it was a coincidence, but a day or so after the article was published, the president announced that he had empowered the HPG to take over traffic management on EDSA. Very good indeed. And this week, has also ordered them to begin clearing the side streets from obstructions like vulcanizing shops, parked cars, make-shift basketball courts, food stalls and the like. Even betterer.

So while I’m on a phantom roll, I may just stoke the flames of another solution I’ve been studying. Regular readers will know from previous columns, podcasts, interviews and general social media rants, that I have been pushing for the proper segregation of buses. Not the passive ones we have now, but a completely dedicated, blocked off lane for them on the inside lanes (the left most lane alongside the MRT) where they can be accessed only by overhead footbridges and elevated bus stops.

The basic idea here is, by keeping them in a dedicated lane, whether on rails or traditional tires, you are able to manage all the variables, including stops, loading times, average speeds and the like. And by making them the center lanes, it now forces commuters to board at the dedicated platforms, frees up the sidewalks on the right, which can eventually be used for the radical idea of, say, pedestrians.

Basically, anyone that is commuting on EDSA would need to get their ride––whether MRT or bus––in the center lanes, which are only accessible only by foot bridges.

This would leave the other lanes completely free for private cars, motorcycles and provincial buses––all of which are not allowed to stop on the road for any reason other than an emergency––allowing for a constant, steady flow of traffic that would be free of the current choke points that create a magnified ripple effect that brings traffic down to a grinding halt for kilometers on end.

The only flaw in my plan is the conflict points like the Northbound lane where the Buendia flyover feeds in, as well as the Rockwell and Ortigas flyovers, and the southbound lane where it hits Ortigas, as well as the turn off to the airport. So I spoke to a firm that had initially pitched the idea of the Bus Rapid Transit system back in the eighties to talk me through the engineering challenges and see if there was still any sense in it.

Philtrak president, Francis Yuseco, who had been pitching the exact same idea 25 years ago when EDSA was still a flyover-less road, chewed it over and said, “Well it is not as ideal anymore, but it is still doable.  Far more doable than building a new Mass transit system.”

But what is not only more doable but in fact ideal, according to Yuseco, is completely decommissioning the MRT and installing the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system (or a grammatically correct Rapid Bus Transit system) on the existing elevated tracks of the MRT by removing the tracks and cementing over it, just as they do in Xiamen in China. Sort of like a dedicated skyway solely for buses.

He estimates the total cost per kilometer to be approximately 10 million pesos, or 230 million pesos for the entire stretch of EDSA––or roughly 2 hours worth of losses due to current traffic on any given weekday in lost productivity and wasted fuel. Rehabilitating the bus stops, which would be the existing MRT stations with added escalators and stairways, would be a separate cost of course, but would once again be negligible in comparison to trying to upgrade an imported system that still falls short in terms of capacity.

According to Yuseco, the problem with the MRT (aside from the odd carriage falling from the tracks onto the road) is it is not only outrageously expensive to upgrade and operate––with every nut and bolt having to be imported––but even at full capacity is only capable of transporting less than a half million per day. A properly run BRT will not only cost a fraction to operate, but is capable of transporting six times as many passengers.

For a more detailed description of how this works, with videos and testimonies from other test cities, log on the author’s website www.jamesdeakin.ph












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