Public transportation in Metro Cebu (Part 1 - 1990’s)

STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul Villarete - The Freeman

Last Sunday’s mobility dysfunction all points out to a grim future for Metro Cebu. Online chatter of four-hour traffic snarls within Cebu City and nine-hour ones north to south of the metropolis is part of the continuing concern on the future of our public transportation. Sure, it was caused by the annual Sinulog festivities and as oft quoted, “expected,” but no one will disagree that it is getting worse each and every year. We even branded it as “anticipated”, as if this is normal. Well, there’s a limit to what we can consider as the worst.

Population increases and economic activities prosper leading to more trips. It is almost inconceivable for people movements to decrease over time, though the pandemic has shown that it can, and can even be induced through work-from-home arrangements --another issue which should be rigorously studied but still isn’t. The traditional ways of coping with this problem have always been centered on traffic management; seldom is public transportation given importance. In the 1990’s, this was prominently addressed through the Metro Cebu Development Project (MCDP).

MCDP was Japanese-funded, though a key component of it, the SCATS (Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System), was procured under the Australian Grant Program (circa 1990’s). This is the system which installed sensors under the pavement before major intersections and which automatically triggers traffic signals in an efficient manner for smoother traffic flow. Last time I heard, they have already disabled this, reverting to the old “fixed time, pre-set” (with downtime counters) system.

MCDP, as originally conceptualized, has the following objective: To construct and improve arterial roads, improve the traffic management system, and construct a bus terminal, in an effort to reduce traffic congestion and thereby promote economic activities in Metro Cebu. The present South Bus Terminal is one of its components, and so are V. Rama Avenue, B. Rodriguez Street, and that link we historically called before as Imus Road, providing the missing link between the two main roads to the south and the north --N. Bacalso Avenue and M.J. Cuenco Avenue. The traffic management component, together with SCATS was under MCTEAM, or Metro Cebu Traffic Engineering Management, originally under DPWH, transferred to DOTC, and ultimately subsumed under the CITOM (City Traffic Operations Management) of Cebu City.

The original MCDP Phase 1 was a purely traffic engineering and management project, though the bus terminal provided a public transportation benefit. Still, public transportation was sufficiently and successfully coordinated under CITOM. It was during this time that most of the present routes and their numbering were established in coordination with LTFRB. While the latter is the agency authorized to issue franchises, at that time, they always defer to a “travel line” issued by CITOM. Thus, public transportation then was effectively planned and managed by CITOM. What we had was one of the best, if not the best, in the entire country.

After two decades, the question that is hanging in the air now is, “How is, and who is in charge of, public transportation in Cebu at present?” If last Sunday’s experience is any indication, the answer seems to be --no one is. (To be continued.)

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