How will the Cebu BRT be operated?

STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul Villarete - The Freeman

While the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) seems to be a complicated, and hence, might be difficult system, building it is actually easy and plainly straightforward. We are currently seeing how the lanes have been laid out in Osmeña Boulevard, and while there might be a few differences, the construction methodology is exactly the same as any ordinary road. It might be a little thicker, and hence stronger, maybe, but that’s because it will be used exclusively for buses. And if they have not changed what was announced, these would be 18-meter ones! Which means, these will be articulated buses, with three axles --two fixed on the “front” part and a third on the “rear” part which is connected like an accordion in the middle.

What is difficult or more complicated in a BRT is not its construction but its operations. These include two aspects --the institutional aspects and the contractual aspects. The institutional one we already touched in a previous column. So are the contractual issues but which we can further amplify. Let’s start first with the question: Who actually runs the buses?

We live in a generation when we only know of one thing --bus companies are owned by private citizens. But there have been cases when bus companies are government-owned. I think for some time or another, buses in London, Singapore, or Seoul have been run by their government, or at least, heavily regulated by them. In 1975, PD No. 492 created the Manila Transit Corp., which “integrated all transport operators into one corporate entity” in Metro Manila. For those old enough, you may recall these as the “Love Bus” of yore. Those interested to know more may read Rene’s Santiago’s paper, “The Rise and Fall of the Love Bus (and the Ghosts of Bus Reforms Past)” in the Philippine Transportation Journal Vol. 4, No. 1.

This is still an option, though I doubt we’ll be taking this route. Still, even if this will be privately-run, the contractual arrangements need to be clarified. Note that the prevailing jurisdiction still remains with LTFRB, which operates through a “franchise” basis, full operations by the private owners with the fares regulated by the LTFRB. This won’t work with the BRT which runs on fixed schedules irrespective of the number of passengers. Firstly, the operational scheme has to change to a “service contract” basis, with the bus companies operating the system based on set rules of operations. This is regardless of the actual number of passengers served. They will be paid on actual operations and paid a fixed annual contract with the passenger fares collected by the government, which now has to bear the “income or loss” or profitability. The question is, is there already a legal or fiscal regime established for this kind of contractual arrangement?

Only when this will be legally enabled is when we will ask the next question: Who will buy and own the buses? The government or the private operator? And how will this be reflected in the service contract? A corollary question would be who buys the future replacements of the fleet which should be around every five to seven years? Let’s hope we’ll know soon.

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