BRT PUT ON HOLD
The implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in Cebu City has hit a snag.
The country’s economic chief decided to put the BRT project on hold pending review on the other alternatives that could solve the worsening traffic in Metro Cebu.
One specific alternative being looked into by Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia is the Light Rail Transit (LRT) subway being pushed by Secretary Michael Dino, presidential assistant in the Visayas.
“If we find the feasibility study for the LRT-subway viable, economically and financially, then we will go for [that] combination,” said Pernia, who sits as director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).
Pernia made a turnaround on his stance on the BRT following his meeting with Dino in the afternoon prior to his flight back to Manila.
Pernia was in Cebu City on Friday to attend the regional road show for the Philippine Development Plan 2017–2022 and Central Visayas Regional Development Plan 2017–2022 at the Cebu Normal University.
Development Plan 2017–2022 at the Cebu Normal University.
In a press conference earlier that day, Pernia told reporters that the BRT project was a go, unless there were interventions coming from Malacañang.
He, however, changed his tune when he was briefed by Dino that the LRT project would be a subway hybrid: the LRT line traversing the outskirts of the city from north to south will be above ground while the subway will be within the city.
The combination of LRT and subway appealed to Pernia.
He explained later to reporters that he thought the LRT would be aboveground all the way — from the province to Cebu City.
But when he was told by Dino that there was a subway component, he added, he thought that would be “ideal” and “perfect” for Cebu City even if a feasibility study had yet to be completed.
Pernia said the BRT, which aims to replace passenger jeepneys with buses as mode of public transportation, will further constrict traffic in the city because of its narrow roads.
This was also the contention of transport and engineering expert Rene Santiago when he pushed for LRT instead of BRT as solution to the traffic problem in Metro Cebu.
But proponents of the BRT project earlier maintained that it had already passed through feasibility studies which confirmed its viability. The Neda Investment Coordination Committee (ICC) – Cabinet Committee (CabCom) is scheduled to evaluate the BRT proponents’ request for additional funding.
This after the Neda ICC-Technical Board endorsed the request for budget increase to the CabCom.
The cost of the project ballooned to P16.9 billion and was likely to increase once implemented.
The initial approved budget for the BRT was P10.6 billion, which spans 21.5 km from Barangay Bulacao in the south to Barangay Talamban in the north.
The increase will cover the cost to acquire the pieces of property that will be affected by the project.
With the LRT-subway project now in the picture, Pernia said he was uncertain of what would be the agenda during the upcoming meeting.
Pernia said they would still review the BRT although he believed that “everybody in the ICC Cabinet level is inclined toward the subway.”
He added that the BRT project would be stalled or scrapped, depending on the discussion.
“For sure, we will stall the BRT project while we evaluate the LRT-subway,” he said.
While Pernia considers the LRT-subway project a “superior alternative,” he said there is a downside to it — it might take years before this could be implemented.
He explained that the project would have to go through with the same thorough evaluation process undergone by the BRT project.
But since “Cebuanos will be better off and be happier with this combination, it makes sense and it’s worthwhile to wait, to go through the process,” he added.
Lawyer Rafael Yap, head of the BRT project implementation unit (PIU), said they would seek clarification from Pernia over his conflicting statements.
“As far as the PIU is concerned, it is the Department of Transportation (DOTr) that is the implementing agency. We will await their direction re[garding] Secretary Pernia[’s] conflicting statements,” he said.
Yap also pointed out that the Neda ICC-TB endorsed favorably the proponents’ request for an increase in budget to the CabCom.
He added that project development takes a long time, pointing out that the BRT project took 10 years from pre-feasibility studies to implementation phase.
Yap also cited the case of the Edsa MRT 3 in Manila: Its project development started during the Marcos era, but it was only completed within the term of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“If we go by Pernia’s statement, Cebu City had nothing for at least 10 years, whereas BRT is already for bidding this year and construction next year,” he said.
Mayor Tomas Osmeña first proposed a BRT system for Cebu City in the 1990s, but it was only in 2008 when the Department of Transportation and Communications (now DOTr) began formal planning. The project is financially and technically supported by the World Bank through its Clean Technology Fund.
Dino, for his part, said Pernia’s statements only reinforced the fact that the LRT was the best mass transport system for Cebu.
Hanoi in Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and India, he said, are scrapping the BRT and going for the LRT.
“We have to follow them,” he said.
“If the BRT would just ease up the traffic situation in Cebu, I would help that. But it will create more havoc and chaos. That’s the problem,” he said.
He said he still welcomed the review that would be done on BRT.
But Dino stressed that once the LRT-subway proposal gets a go signal, the BRT project would have to be scrapped.
Dino said proponents from Singapore and China, whom he refused to identify, will undertake the LRT-subway project, which is estimated to cost $3 billion and will take four years to complete.
He said that once his office receives the final proposal, he will announce who the proponents are.
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