Saturday August 18, 2018

Cebu BRT ‘technically viable’

DESPITE the call to cancel the project, the World Bank (WB) remains convinced that the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is still viable.

After an evaluation mission last May 15-23, the bank said that the Cebu BRT project will provide support to improve traffic management and will give a reliable and comfortable mode of public transport.

Agence Française de Développement or the French Development Agency joined the World Bank for the mission, which led to a report that the project “as designed is technically viable and that moving forward will allow us to optimize the project design.”

However, the WB rated the progress of the project as “moderately unsatisfactory” compared to its previous rating of “moderately satisfactory.”

The mission took place a month after Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade and Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino recommended to the finance secretary the cancellation of the Cebu BRT project.

Also in April, the Department of Transportation let go of 13 workers in the Cebu BRT’s project implementation unit, leaving it with only seven persons.

Among Tugade and Dino’s reasons for recommending to cancel the BRT were that Cebu City’s roads are too narrow—for instance, there can be no exclusive lane for buses on the Banilad-Talamban corridor—and that the project’s delays were already costing the government millions in fees.

Leaders of 18 business and civic groups later appealed to the National Government to proceed with the Cebu BRT, but to make sure that roads along its routes would be widened.

Cebu City Administrator Nigel Paul Villarete explained yesterday the “moderately unsatisfactory” rating from the World Bank was not critical and was a reflection of how the Department of Transportation (DOTr) was implementing the project.

“This is because there were minimal loan disbursements because the technical service consultants (TSC) were not mobilized. It should have been mobilized in the second half of 2016, but DOTr didn’t,” he said.

“The project is in its fourth year of implementation and is still suffering from significant delays. Before January, the main concern was the lack of decision and significant delays in the procurement of key consultants that were expected to help complete the design of the BRT system and strengthen DOTr’s capacity to successfully implement the project,” part of the report reads.

Local conditions

“The TSC, Social Management Consultants, and PPP (Public-Private Partnership) transaction adviser are still not mobilized. As a result, the procurement of civil works cannot start and this is delaying the start of the BRT operations,” the report also pointed out.

The World Bank report, however, pointed out that the project was designed to fit local conditions, including narrow roads.

“BRT projects have been successfully operated on existing narrow roads and there are technical solutions that have addressed the concerns expressed about the project. The consultants to be hired are expected to help address these concerns,” the WB report reads.

With the report, Osmeña said he will continue fighting for the implementation of BRT project.

“It’s not enough but it’s better than nothing and it’s approved already,” he said.

If the project will not be approved, Osmeña said it’s the people of the city who would suffer from the lack of a mass transport option.

“I’m not the loser here, I can go to work anytime. I have a car and a driver. I’m not the student who cuts classes, the salesgirl that can’t show up on time; they’re the ones who will lose,” he said.

In a separate interview last Tuesday, Cebu City North District Rep. Raul del Mar said he will oppose any measure that will be introduced in the House of Representatives that will pave the way for the transfer of funds intended for the Cebu BRT to other projects.

He said the first thing he will do once Congress resumes session in July is to clarify if Marikina City Rep. Bayani Fernando will push through with his proposal to ask for the transfer of the Cebu BRT funds to a similar project in Metro Manila.

Before Congress went on a break, del Mar said, he attended two hearings of the committee on transportation and there was no mention of Fernando’s proposal to transfer the fund.

Del Mar said what was discussed in the committee hearing was a delay in the Manila BRT project and he also brought up the delay in the Cebu BRT.

Engineer Villarete said the transfer of funding isn’t possible.

“The notion that the funds for the Cebu BRT will be transferred somewhere else is very ridiculous because it cannot be done. You can’t transfer those funds because those are loan proceeds. The worst that can happen is that the owner of the money, the donor, will just cancel the loan and take it back,” Villarete explained.

The World Bank approved in September 2014 a US$141-million financial package for the project, while the French Development Agency extended in February 2015 a $57-million loan for it.