Cebu BRT – what’s next?

STREETLIFE - Nigel Villarete - The Freeman

Everybody’s grumbling about the traffic situation in Cebu right now. Especially along Osmeña Boulevard and Gen. Maxilom Avenue. And they are blaming the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) construction for it. Many BRT enthusiasts are quick to say this is only because of the construction stage. They’re partly correct; the construction does introduce congestion along the route, which will diffuse once the lanes are completed. But it won’t improve traffic either because the BRT was never meant to do that. The BRT is for public transportation which will benefit the majority who don’t have cars.

Constructing the BRT lanes and stations is actually the easier part. What is more difficult is actually its operations and management, or what we term as O&M. I know they are already doing the stages for the transition and the consultants are working diligently on the plan. It’s not a piece of cake, in fact, it’s the most difficult part of the project. Planning and constructing is easy; O&M is a headache! And the fact that they implemented it in stages makes it even more difficult, it’s going to be a migraine!

Firstly, when the BRT infrastructure is finished, you need the buses to carry the passengers. The determination of what kind of bus to use, and what schedules to run is difficult. There are 12-meter buses, 13.5-meter ones, and the 18-meter articulated bus --the one that seems to have a trailer and folds like an accordion when it runs through a curve. The determination of what buses to use is crucial because we have to do that first in order to design the stations. Otherwise, the buses will not fit the stations, considering that there are stations which may need to cater to one bus, or two buses, or even 3 buses at one time. You don’t plan for the present but also the future, so you don’t build a station for one bus only and then expand it five years later because it needs to serve two!

A service plan is also necessary since the passenger demand is not constant during the day. At various times of the day, people’s travels are different, with their own origins and destinations. Thus, the schedules have to be carefully planned. It’s even possible to have “express” services, which will not stop at every station but only on specified busier ones. And maybe on the busy hours of the day, too. We have to remember that our trips are actually not even during the day but concentrated in the mornings and afternoons, so there will be “lean” times with less buses, and which may not be full of passengers, too.

Seems complicated, right? It actually is a head-scratching undertaking. I hate to be the one doing this work. But wait, there’s more. We forgot there are existing jeepneys plying these routes --what are we going to do with them? They’re serving the same passengers, so when you start the BRT, their existence needs to be addressed. I am sure the national government is working on this right now; it’s only that they are not informing the public on what they’re doing. Neither is the city government. I don’t know why…

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