Will the BRT help the Cebuanos?

STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul C. Villarete - The Freeman

This would seem to be a strange question, knowing that all of us, or at least people who live in Cebu City, seem to agree that indeed, it will. While there were a handful of critics back at start when Mayor Tommy Osmeña first made the request to the World Bank in 2008, these were quite few --mostly coming from three minor sectors-- political opponents, those whose minds are sold out to rail, including trainspotters, and those who are who always apprehensive about anything new.

But on the whole, and as time went by since then, there was a general acceptance of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as a good, if not better, public transport system, from all sides of whatever fences. Thus, as we watch, literally on a daily basis, sight of its construction progress at Osmeña Boulevard, we await with hopeful expectancy that indeed, we will have better mobility and accessibility in the future.

I am, too, quite hopeful, but with certain apprehensions. Firstly, I know for certain that many people expect for “traffic” (meaning traffic congestion) to be solved. I’m sorry but it won’t --the BRT has nothing to do with traffic or how it’s solved! It was never planned to solve that in the first place! The BRT is a good form of public transportation, but it does not solve traffic --it allows faster, unimpeded public transportation, which needless to say, consists of around 80% of the commuting public.

Secondly, this “first” phase of the Cebu BRT will not serve a lot of people. Service is proportionate to demand, and you serve more when the demand is more. The first link that they are constructing is a link between South Bus Terminal (SBT) and the Capitol. I really hope I am wrong, or may not have the current data available, but I can’t see any sizable passenger demand between SBT and Capitol. Or vice-versa. There was a station-by-station daily demand analysis done in 2019 with hourly origin-destination estimates for all stations of the planned Cebu BRT, and indeed, the four stations along Osmeña Boulevard had the most boarding and exiting passengers. But this was because all stations were considered, and we know that most expected passengers really have the central business district as their destinations (which of course, become their origins in going home). That is expected, once the entire BRT network is completed and comes to service. But not between SBT and the Capitol. As I wrote before, who did they expect to ride between these two points? The bulk of users will come from the Bulacao and Talamban areas, going to work at the central business district (or passing through there).

And the city government is not helping! If there is anybody who knows from where and to where Cebu City residents come and go, on a daily basis, it is the city government! But it’s not involved in how it is planned to be operated, and we have no idea who is doing the operational aspects of the system --people from Manila?-- who may not know the daily travel configuration of Cebuanos? Note: The operational aspect of the BRT is much more difficult and complicated than its construction.

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