The BRT debate

BAR NONE - Ian Manticajon - Agence France-Presse

On Wednesday, the Cebu City Council urged the National Economic and Development Authority and the Department of Transportation to temporarily suspend civil works related to the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (CBRT) project's Packages 2, 3, and 4 for six months.

By a majority vote led by Councilor James Anthony Cuenco, and opposed by City Councilors Nestor Archival, Sr., Joy Young, Jose Lorenzo Abellanosa, and Mary Ann de los Santos, the city council adopted the said resolution. This decision followed an executive session where transportation experts, invited by Cuenco’s committee on transportation, shared insights about the project's viability. The council also proposed a city-operated trial run of a CBRT route from Bulacao to Ayala Center Cebu during the suspension.

Councilor Cuenco’s concerns about the project are based on his presumed best judgment, formed through consultations with invited experts. There remains a possibility that he may be proven correct. However, I question his timing, and the arguments he proposed could be countered by those of several other experts.

I just hope that our city officials, by working with the national government on this national project and truly acting in the best interest of the Cebuanos, will be able to reach an amicable solution that addresses the sincerest concerns of all parties involved.

Just because the CBRT was an idea of former Cebu City mayor Tomas Osmeña, who is credited with visionary proposals that turned into successful realities like the South Road Properties (SRP), it does not automatically assure the success of the CBRT. The viability of the CBRT is an important discussion to have, and it's where my appreciation for Cuenco both begins and ends.

It ends there because I still do not agree with Councilor Cuenco’s stance on suspending Packages 2, 3, and 4 of the CBRT. My argument is based on a fundamental reason underscoring the necessity of a BRT system for Metro Cebu.

The BRT is designed to counter the car-centric culture of our roads. It aims to encourage mass transportation for both the masses and the middle class, including private car owners.

Giving priority to private vehicles on our roads is not sustainable. If you examine the figures on growing car ownership in Metro Cebu, you would arrive at the conclusion that it is not sustainable unless we are willing to choke our roads with private vehicles, which is bound to happen even if we widen our existing roads or open new road networks.

The BRT is designed to provide an efficient, reliable alternative to private car use by offering dedicated lanes, controlled bus stations, and reliable service, which can significantly improve public transit accessibility.

If we want to improve the quality of life for urban Cebuanos, we must veer away from a car-centric society and shift toward a transit-oriented society. A microcosm of the folly of car-centric communities is the middle-class subdivisions of Lapu-Lapu City. If you visit these villages because you have friends there, you can see cars parked on the already narrow roads of the subdivision, where people own cars but lack garages to keep them. That is similar to what is already happening in a much wider scope in Metro Cebu, where parking areas have become scarce, and the sheer volume of private vehicles is clearly the main cause of congestion.

A report by Rappler from 2022 quoted Paul Gotiong, the executive director of the Cebu City Transport Office (CCTO), pointing out during the first mobility summit that Cebu City is overwhelmed by private vehicles, which make up about 80% of the daily traffic, while public transport accounts for only 10%.

CCTO data from General Maxilom Avenue, according to the same report, showed that over 50% of the vehicles on this street are private vehicles, followed by a significant number of motorcycles. The CCTO also referred to a report from the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines (CAMPI) and the Truck Manufacturers Association (TMA), which indicated that the average monthly vehicle sales in the country in 2022 was around 25,000.

Both opponents and supporters of the CBRT have reasons that are logical based on their cultural viewpoints. Opponents likely focus on roads being made for cars, while supporters of the BRT view roads as an integral part of a mass commuter system, which they consider a more sustainable transportation option. These starkly clashing viewpoints highlight the controversy surrounding the BRT, potentially slowing the shift toward more environmentally-friendly transportation systems.

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