The Love Boats return
CITY SENSE - CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren () - February 24, 2007 - 12:00am
Decades ago, in the magical, mystical era of martial law, Metro Manila had a rational metropolitan master plan with a proposed integrated light rail and air-conditioned bus mass transit system. The vision was for a “City of Man,” one that was people-centered.

The first line of the LRT was constructed and operational before most of our ASEAN neighbors, like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore had theirs. Our "Love Buses" made road travel on EDSA seem like a luxury ride compared to the lawanit-sided, suspension-less, diesel-stenched JD, MD and G-Liner buses of the Sixties and early Seventies. There were even double-decker buses like those in London and Tokyo. (These buses were made in Japan — remember the signs beside the buzzers, "Push bell when get off"?).

Completing the system later in that era were water-borne boat-buses, christened "Love Boats." The whole, road, rail and river ferry system was a magnificent idea that, if it had been completed, would have put Metro Manila in the forefront of world-class cities in terms of urban transport.

Sadly, only one line of the LRT was built to service the metropolis until the end of the century. The Love Bus system fell into disrepair (the double-deckers disappeared). The water taxis’ propellers got caught up in debris so frequently that the system stopped. A revival in the early post-martial law days hit the same snags (literally) and likewise ground to a halt.

A decade and a much cleaner Pasig River later (thanks to Piso Para sa Pasig, the Clean and Green Movement and foreign-funded initiatives), the Love Boats have appeared again to bring river transport to Metro Manila. The current Pasig River Ferry Project is a project of the National Government, with the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC), the MMDA, the DOTC, the LGUs of Manila, Mandaluyong, Pasig, Makati, Taguig, and Marikina, the PPA and the DENR, the Asian Development Bank and Unilever (representing the private sector) are involved.

The system is projected to eventually carry 28,000 passengers daily. Planned are a total of 15 stations at fairly regular intervals along a string of new riverside linear parks constructed by the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission. Each station is also air-conditioned with waiting rooms, toilets, snack bars and payphones (for the few Filipinos who don’t have cell phones). Six have already been built or are near completion while four more are planned for the year. Three ferries are built (by a local company using Australian know-how) with another three on the way and more planned.

The system was launched recently. I joined the convoy of three spanking new 150-passenger twin-hulled ferries on the inaugural ride from Malacañang to Guadalupe last Valentine’s Day. The ride was super smooth and fast (top speeds are 23 mph — faster than the average road traffic in Metro Manila). There was no smell from the river. There’s a bar on board, music, full life-saving equipment and clean seats. Docking at the stations was quick and easy. Plus, there is no traffic! Travel by river ferry will eventually cut transit time for commuters to half of what it takes on land. Fares will also eventually be a tad less than FXs and PUJs, plus did I mention no traffic?

The passing views are generally good because of the PRRC’s park projects and the long-ongoing river cleaning programs initiated by Clean and Green and the former First Lady Amelita Ramos. Sadly, billboards are visible even from the boats and garbage from informal settlers accumulates in certain spots despite continuous reminders to LGUs to police their barangays.

The river ferry system will provide a great alternative for commuters. Fifteen kilometers on the Marikina River connect to 27 kilometers of the main Pasig line to create links that can get you from Riverbanks in Marikina to shopping in Chinatown without changing rides or the inconvenience of crossing streets.

The potential for the river rides extends to tourism as the routes pass several historic sites in central Manila, Mandaluyong, Makati, Taguig and along the Marikina River. My friend, the walking tour king Carlos Celdran, could do a river tour showcasing palaces, old sites of tobacco, rum and rope making, the old Makati quarry sites for stone that was used to build Intramuros and a dozen other historic sites from the pre-Spanish, Spanish and American eras. The bridges along the Pasig have also several interesting stories to tell. The Pasig can become a channel to the past and a new way to see the city.

The potential for an even larger transport network is possible. Talks are underway with the Laguna Lake Development Authority to do a study on the feasibility of linking the system with towns along the lake, just like in the Spanish and early American era, when the lake and river were the main highways of travel.

All this is great news. However, I would like to see some intent (and action) from authorities to better link the ferry stations to the bus and LRT/MRT terminals. For example, the Guadalupe ferry station, which is now open, needs an all-weather pedestrian link to the MRT terminal over 200 meters away. This lack of linkages, at the road and pedestrian scale, bugs our other modes of public travel. Look at how bad pedestrian access is to most of our train stations from the road and in between LRTs and MRTs. Bus, FX and jeepney terminal linkages are almost non-existent except for a few private developments (and some isolated attempts by the MMDA).

Still, all in all, the revival of the ferry system is good news. Hey, what happened to the San Juan River?
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Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com.

LOVE BOATS MAKATI MARIKINA RIVER METRO MANILA PASIG RIVER SYSTEM
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