Opposition to the CBRT: A curious case (Part 2)

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

There are two reasons I can think of why a number of politicians in Cebu are now opposing the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (CBRT) project as it is taking shape and nearing realization. The first one relates to a theory in behavioral economics, while the second involves political opportunism.

On the first one, there's a theory in behavioral economics called 'hyperbolic discounting'. The theory explains why people might devalue the future benefits of public works projects in favor of immediate convenience or benefits. It’s easy to argue against the CBRT at this stage when public works related to the project are causing immediate inconveniences.

People with cars also are now seeing that a significant portion of the road they used to pass will soon be exclusively for the passage of large commuter buses. This bias tends to reinforce resistance against the CBRT, even though experts have already highlighted its significant long-term benefits especially for the commuting public.

The challenge for CBRT project planners and the Department of Transportation (DOTR) is to effectively communicate to the public how the CBRT not only reduces the carbon footprint of vehicles but also decreases the reliance on private vehicles on our major roads; that it is a more efficient mass transport system capable of carrying significantly more people relative to road size. This, I believe, has not been done consistently, for example, through the use of visual aids along the routes, or a comprehensive social media and legacy media campaign that includes video simulations to help people visualize their future with the CBRT.

It's not enough to assume that people already understand what the project can do for them. With opponents circling the wagons against the CBRT at this stage, it is imperative for the DOTR, the Cebu City government, and other stakeholders and proponents of the CBRT to constantly remind people that a future with the CBRT is better than the status quo. Car-centric attitudes persist among many, even in the face of facts showing that private vehicles on our roads are the main drivers of environmental pollution, traffic congestion, and economic inefficiencies. The CBRT represents a shift towards a more sustainable and equitable transportation option.

It's easier for people to resist change, often due to fear of the unknown and potential failure. Reminding people of past successes can be helpful. For instance, had proponents of transferring the Lahug airport to Mactan and building the first Mactan-Mandaue Bridge failed to defend these projects from local opposition, Cebu would not enjoy the prime position it holds today in the country’s economic, cultural, and tourism landscape. Similarly, if opponents of the South Reclamation Project had succeeded in stopping its progress, Cebu south would have remained an economic backwater, as it had for decades, with credible investors continuing to focus exclusively on the more progressive Cebu north.

The second reason I can think of for why a number of politicians in Cebu are now opposing the CBRT, advocating for its reduction, scrapping, or further delay, relates to political opportunism. I hesitate to question people's motivations, but in this case, the timing of the opposition against the CBRT makes it necessary to examine the motivations behind these actions.

Many of these politicians have come into power after significant groundwork had already been laid by their visionary predecessors, benefiting from the progress without contributing further ground-breaking developments. They would rather focus on maintaining or consolidating their position of power, rather than pushing forward with game-changing projects that, although beneficial for the future of Cebu and the nation, may be challenging and require difficult decisions.

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