Editorial

Smaller scale BRT

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He was just taking a poke, really.

After Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama warned that he would give  Bando Osmena Pundok Kauswagan (BO-PK) a hard time staging their rallies if they fail to secure permits from his office, his rival Rep. Tomas Osmeña of Cebu City’s south district took another jab at his former  partner.

Osmeña, who looks forward to staging a comeback as as mayor in May, blames the incumbent for not giving a substantial presentation of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system to the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).

The project was tabled – not rejected – by President Benigno Aquino III.

Osmeña didn’t mention the project’s huge price tag—P10 billion— the real reason the BRT is in the freezer.

Mayor Rama responded that he wasn’t given a chance to present the BRT in the first place.  That was the job of the Department of Transportation and Communication which made the presentation to the NEDA Board.  He was right.

The congressman was toying with the mayor.  Apparently he just wanted to rub it in that the BRT, his brainchild, would materialize under “his” watch, after May.

President Aquino  dropped the BRT from his project list for  Public-Private Partnerships saying the BRT would require more study and the national government wasn’t ready to spend or borrow P10 billion for an untested project.

He announced last December in a Cebu visit that the BRT’s approval was deferred by the NEDA board to give time to iron out issues. “Medyo may kulang,” he said, because segregated roads were needed to make the mass transit system effective,  something he wasn’t sure there was enough space for in the city.

Aquino didn’t shut out the project.  In fact he affirmed that adopting a mass transit system was the direction for Cebu City.

But the star attention has gone to the expansion of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Project so it’s reasonable to accept that Cebu can’t have two jumbo projects financed by the PPP  simultaneously.

With the BRT project on ice, Osmeña said he wants a smaller scale of the project that would run a route through the Capitol and be implemented by segments, costing less than P10 billion.

“I’m patient.  I can wait,” he said after President Aquino broke the disappointing news in his Cebu visit.

That’s not a typical response from Osmeña who’s used to getting what he wants on his schedule, but who can argue in public with the President?

Since he already has the  feasibility study for the project, we can only hope that a smaller scale BRT is a feasible option. Whether it would be profitable to operate and sustain on a long term basis is another story.

Exactly how much would a smaller scale BRT cost and how much would the national government fork over as its share in financing the project?  Will there be less dislocation of jeepney routes and drivers?

These details need to answered by whoever wins as Cebu City mayor in May.

Jeepneys are good for side roads, but can’t meet the needs of urban Cebu’s traffic on main thoroughfares where the small-capacity PUJs just add to the grid lock.

The BRT would provide relief to a burgeoning commuter population and has the potential to be a low-pollution system. For that alone, it deserves a second look.

Imagine Osmeña Boulevard having large air-conditioned buses traveling on a dedicated fast lane, stopping at 14  bus stations with elevated platforms.

The longer the BRT is on hold, the cost of delivering this vision will go up, including the fare rates charged to commuters.

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