Saturday July 21, 2018

Wenceslao: BRT, LRT, now MRT

I FIRST heard about the proposal to set up a monorail transit (MRT) system in Cebu City a few months ago. It was even Mayor Tomas Osmeña who, together with the representative of Philtram Transportation Consortium Inc., signed a memorandum of understanding for the conduct of tests in the city. The only difference between a monorail and a light rail transit is that the former runs on a single track.

Philtram has recently been issuing statements that showed it is moving closer to completing a feasibility study on the project. It’s plan has also gotten clearer: the monorail will have a terminal hub at the foot of the Marcelo Fernan Bridge and 14 stations from Mandaue City to the South Road Properties in Cebu City. Its operation can be expanded to Consolacion town in the north and Talisay City and Minglanilla town in the south.

Philtram won’t be doing the project on its own as it has signed a memorandum of cooperation with China Railway Engineering Consulting Group, Co. Ltd. to set up MRTs not only in Metro Cebu but also in other areas of the country. And here’s the interesting part. Philtram President Arnold Ray Alagar said the MRT is projected to start operating three years from now or in 2020.

I am not surprised that Rafael Yap, project manager of the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, didn’t pose any objections to the plan, after all, the project has gotten the support of his boss, the mayor. The understanding was that the MRT would complement the BRT, a pet project of Osmeña. What wasn’t mentioned in the talks was the reaction of Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino.

The thing is, Dino is pushing for another major undertaking, a light rail transit (LRT) and subway system for Metro Cebu. Would the MRT complement Dino’s LRT? Under Dino’s proposal, the LRT line will start as far as Danao City in the north going to Cebu City where it will transition into a subway and then transition again to an LRT line in Talisay City going to Carcar City in the south.

In pushing for the project, Dino even sought to put on hold Cebu City’s BRT project, although one of the reasons for that is his long-running conflict with Osmeña. Incidentally, is the MRT project Osmeña’s way of getting back at Dino? In 2020, it is probable that Dino’s LRT project won’t be breaking ground yet. The MRT project, though, will still have to get the nod of concerned national government agencies, which means Dino will still have a say (or influence) in it.

With the MRT project surfacing together with those of the BRT and LRT, there now seems to be a need to rationalize these competing initiatives. It looks to me like the current setup can aptly be described using the Cebuano phrase, “gubot pas lukot.” We have seen that in the recent confusion on whether the BRT would be put on hold or not, something that was eventually sorted out by the Investment Coordination Committee of the National Economic Development Authority (Neda).

Then again, having competing interests in the effort to provide a viable mass transport system for Cebu is better than having nothing at all.