It didn’t take much for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project to get derailed, at least temporarily, as shown by last week’s surprise announcement by Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia that he supports putting on hold or suspending the BRT project in favor of other transport alternatives.
The other transport alternatives were later rolled out as a revamped Light Railway Transit (LRT) project that will have a subway component in Cebu City and an elevated railway system that will connect towns to Metro Cebu and vice versa. And what do you know, it came courtesy of Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino.
While ardent BRT proponents like its chief architect Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña denounce the derailment as an “arbitrary, political” decision on Pernia’s part, the Cebu LRT subway project does have its merits, though the timing is highly suspect.
An underground or subway train system would do away with protracted road right-of-way (RROW) negotiations with lot owners and avoid having to tear up large tracts of roads and privately owned properties to make way for terminals and specially designed roads for the proposed BRT buses.
But that means having to go through the prolonged feasibility studies and negotiations with financial institutions like the World Bank (WB) and allied countries for this new subway and elevated railway system project that would take at least a decade to complete.
Obviously, Metro Cebu cannot afford to endure another decade of monstrous traffic jams for this or any other project to proceed contrary to what some business leaders say.
And just as it only took a private meeting between Pernia and Dino to change Pernia’s mind and declare a suspension on the BRT project, it only took a phone call from Rep. Raul del Mar of Cebu City’s north district — and an Osmeña ally — to remind Pernia that the BRT is still a go and will not be derailed based on his own unilateral decision.
But the BRT’s fate still hangs over tomorrow’s meeting of the Investment Coordination Committee (ICC) of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) which will discuss the additional P6.3-billion allocation for the existing P10.6 billion allocated for the BRT.
While Pernia told Del Mar that he doesn’t make any decisions during said meetings, Del Mar’s veteran lawmaker experience tells him otherwise as he reminded Pernia that his statements in favor or against the BRT will carry weight during the ICC discussions.
Will Pernia abide by the existing collective Neda decision to proceed with the BRT or will he push for the Cebu LRT subway project lobbied by Dino and trash years of studies, negotiations with global financial institutions and consultations — which Dino claimed never happened with concerned stakeholders — for the BRT to finally secure the green light from the government? We’ll have to wait tomorrow to find out.