BRT: The most sensible option

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O. Abalos (The Freeman) - September 13, 2015 - 10:00am

It has been awhile now that the traffic situation has been so revolting for motorists and commuters alike as both good and bad roads were cracked, detached and hauled by the contractors to turn them into what are supposed to be just the same narrow good roads. Done altogether, almost all corners in the cities of Cebu and Mandaue had become choke points.  As a result, traffic flowed at turtle pace.  Worse, more often, it goes to a screeching halt for hours.  Stupidly, they impress upon us that these are just temporary inconveniences.  As put forward, once the repairs are finished, traffic snags will be things of the past.  So far, our temporary solutions are rerouting and truck ban.

Having these imminent scenarios, we heard several proposals from stakeholders.  Some sectors even suggested to instead ban private cars, not cargo trucks, on the streets at peak hours.  Others are begging for a mass transport system.   Yes, as we speak, Cebu City is in deep preparation for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).  With the comfort fully air-conditioned stations and buses the BRT supposedly provides, car owners may just leave their units in their garages than use them.  Thus, decongesting our streets.

So far, such is the most logical of all.  However, for better understanding, let us again look into the project as laymen.  Devoid of biases, easily we may be able to see it along line convenience, safety, efficiency, use of energy and environment.

On convenience, the present transport system is certainly not acceptable. Despite being holders of certificates of public convenience, some jeepney drivers and operators have less regard on such responsibility.  In several instances, we were on the receiving end of these utility operators’ and drivers’ shenanigans.  The countless transport strikes in the past were some of the insensibilities these drivers and operators had shown us.  There is one ticklish question though that should be resolved too.  In order not to suffer the same misfortune, will the BRT assure us of “no-strike policy” among their employees once these projects run?  Probably, yes, because it seems that it shall be ran by a government entity.  Or, if privately run, it shall be well regulated.

On safety, the current system is certainly undesirable.  In the drivers’ race for more passengers to get the front seats, safety concerns have been left in the back seat.  They don’t recognize designated jeepney stops.  They load and unload passengers anywhere on the streets.  More often, passengers had to squeeze themselves through a phalanx of vehicles to get to the sidewalk where they could be safer.  They run and elude racing vehicles just to get a ride on jeepneys that are halting at the middle of the road.  With BRT, safety concerns are well addressed since all transport personnel are paid in salaries and are not racing like hell to earn a living.  There are fewer drivers too to discipline and can be better trained and strictly supervised.  Discipline can also be instilled among commuters.  They will certainly realize that unlike jeepneys that will pick them up anywhere as they wish, these buses will only load and unload passengers in bus stops or stations at a designated time.

On efficiency, the present situation isn’t at par.   With the sheer number of jeepneys alone, the streets are already clogged.  Factor in the hardheadedness of some drivers, traffic is moving at snail-pace.  In fact, more often, this resulted to huge traffic jams.  Consequently, commuters are more often missing their appointments or are reporting to their work or classes very late.  With dedicated “busways”, BRT absolutely addresses this concern.  However, it needs cooperation from other vehicle owners because despite stiff penalties, some errant drivers may just get into dedicated “busways”.  A situation that may not just bring about jammed streets but accidents as well.

On environmental aspects and use of energy, the present condition is certainly not sound.  With this huge number of smoke-belchers, a cleaner air isn’t possible.  This is simple arithmetic.  The fewer the engines emitting smoke the cleaner the atmosphere will be.  In fact, during transport strikes, the sky is clearer and the smell is a lot better.  Needless to say, with fewer fuel tanks to fill, oil consumptions are thousands of liters fewer.

Despite these advantages, however, some sectors are just so apprehensive, not on its future commercial operation but during construction.  We can’t blame them. The fact was, in May, 2011, after years of countless debates and months of sleepless nights evaluating the pros and cons of the project, the World Bank-funded team released the result of its feasibility study for the BRT.  Unfortunately, they emphasized four (4) risks.  Out of these, however, the perceived corruption concerns seemed to be the most serious and imminent.  Despite a consultant’s insinuation that the public’s attention and the participation of National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) might mitigate the risk, history tells us that the probability that corruption will take much of the pie is still as clear as daylight.

So that, we should continue to be vigilant and make sure that the BRT is not only implemented but should be completed on time, at the right specifications and, most of all, at the desired cost.


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