Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Seares: Would BRT kill or feed traffic monster?

TRANSPORTATION Secretary Arthur Tugade and President’s Adviser for the Visayas Michael Dino in an April 11 letter to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez recommended that the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project for Cebu City be scrapped.

Stopped, dumped, and replaced with another mass transport sytem that, the letter to the head of the Neda-Investment Coordinating Committee (ICC) says, is “superior” to BRT.

Why junk BRT that supposedly is (1) ready to start construction this year, (2) went through 10-15 years of gestation, (3) and survived scrutiny by loan grantors, including the World Bank, and government financial and technical bodies, including those of Neda, Cabinet and ICC.

Because, its critics allege, BRT wouldn’t work in the local setting: instead of killing the traffic monster, BRT would feed it to grow bigger.

Conflicting claims

But the letter is just a recommendation, not something that you would bet your life on. Just as conflicting assertions in the past few days wouldn’t tell us what’s going on, much less the outcome of it all.

Last April 15, one Chris Kouum of a Singapore-China consortium announced that a P155 billion LRT project would start construction in Cebu City next year;

Three days later (April 18), Socio-economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia contradicted the LRT claim by saying it would take many years for the project to be studied and approved (“Matagal pa yan,” he said.) In the same Cebu forum, DOTr Asst. Secretary Mark Steven Pastor reportedly said it returned the LRT project proposal because it “had no feasibility study.”

Core issue on BRT

Assertions made, disputed and not settled. Statements that didn’t respond, thus leaving questions unsettled.

The most relevant argument Tugade and Dino cited is that BRT wouldn’t work because of narrow streets, difficulty in securing road right of way, huge increase in number of vehicles in the last three years, and probable worsening of traffic because BRT buses and all other vehicles would be using the same road arteries.

That’s what proponents of BRT should rip apart and prove wrong. If BRT wouldn’t work, the monster of a traffic crisis would be more destructive.

No contract breach?

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, principal BRT proponent, harped instead on the government not honoring its agreements on funding.

Tugade and Dino, expecting that line, said they were assured by DOTr’s legal and procurement panel that they could still get out of obligations with little hassle. You have the right not to believe anything until the claims are independently verified. That’s how misleading the informal debate has become.


The point being: other arguments for or against scrapping BRT -- such as breach of contract, facing the prospect of “lack of mobility” in the next 10 years, and throwing away precious “goodie” from central Manila that rarely comes our way -- pales against the core issue: Would BRT work or not?

The collateral issues could distract, even seduce individuals and groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce rushing to call against abandoning BRT. Why don’t the business leaders call for a presentation of both mass transport systems and grapple with the major issue by the horn?

Ghost, bird

Mayor Tomas didn’t meet it head-on. Instead of answering the Tugade-Dino claim that BRT wouldn’t be functional and practical, he talked of a “ghost project” and “a bird in the sky,” referring to Dino’s counter-proposal of a light-rail-transit (LRT). Memorable metaphor but not an argument slayer.

The public listening to the exchange of random arguments risks being blindsided, if not confused. Not just by one camp but by both.


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