SEVERAL transport groups yesterday opposed the plan of SM Prime Holdings Inc. (SMPHI) to operate buses in Metro Cebu, citing worsening traffic and possible displacement of jeepney drivers.
They voiced their opposition during a hearing organized by the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) 7, where the company is applying for a license to field 77 “high quality” buses in the cities of Talisay, Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu.
But the Movement for Liveable Cebu (MLC), a non-profit group that advocates urban greening and environmental sustainability, expressed support for the proposed transport system, saying it can be a “test case” for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project.
The SMPHI, which created the Metro Rapid Transit System Inc. (MRTSI) to operate the buses, has said that the airconditioned buses pass global standards on carbon emissions and can help reduce the volume of cars on the road by drawing car users on board.
Associations of jeepney drivers and operators led by Piston (Pagkakaisa ng Samahan ng Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide) Cebu chapter held a protest rally outside the LTFRB 7 office.
At the hearing, Ryan Yu, chairman of the Cebu Integrated Transport Services Cooperative Inc. (Citrasco), questioned the basis of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to open a “developmental route” that will be served by the MRTSI.
The buses will only worsen road congestion in Metro Cebu, said Alex Bordadora, chair of the Visayan United Drivers Transport Service Cooperative.
Lazaro Napuli, 50, who has been driving a jeepney for 15 years, said the buses will lure passengers away from jeepneys and jeepney drivers will lose passengers.
The father of four, who joined the rally, said the buses should only be allowed in the South Road Properties (SRP).
Also manifesting their opposition were the Cebu South Mini Bus Operators Association and the Cebu Provincial Bus Operators Bus Association.
In a joint position paper, the two groups said there are existing public transport services from Talisay City to the Mactan airport.
On the other hand, Macaraig Canton, head convenor of the MLC, said the transport system will prepare Metro Cebu for the BRT.
“A large portion of the target market is the car driving crowd and we will get to see how successful that strategy is,” he said.
LTFRB 7 Legal Officer Edwin Antepuesto said the papers submitted by the opposing parties will be reviewed, as well as the reply of the MRTSI, which requested for copies of the position papers.
Depending on the arguments of the opposing parties, Antepuesto said the application for franchise by the MRTSI will be considered contested or uncontested.
If contested, the application will be sent to the LTFRB central office, which will decide whether or not to grant the franchise.
“We are confident that we’ll secure the franchise. We believe in the merits of our application,” lawyer Jomar Castillo, counsel of the MRTSI, said in an interview with reporters.
The MRTSI hopes to operate the buses starting middle of next month. The buses will be launched in time for the opening of the SM Seaside City in the SRP.
Castillo said the application of the SMPHI to operate a high quality public transport system on a new route was endorsed by the City Governments of Talisay, Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu.
Castillo said the endorsement means that the local government units are confident the proposed transport system will not worsen road congestion and that there is public demand for the buses.
The application has been approved by the DOTC.
Following the protest held by the transport groups, the flow of traffic along J. Briones St. crawled for at least an hour yesterday, the Cebu City Transportation Office (CCTO) reported.
CCTO operations division chief Joy Tumulak said that although the traffic was manageable, the protest prompted them to deploy 13 traffic enforcers, with 10 of them beefing up those earlier deployed in the area.
“We implemented maximum tolerance. We were not worried as the road is wider and there are alternate roads,” he said in an interview, adding that they were prepared for it because the transport groups had coordinated with them before holding the rally.
Marissa Fernan, vice president of the SMPHI, earlier said that the buses, called MyBus, will take an underserved route from Talisay City to the Mactan Cebu International Airport in Lapu-Lapu City.
The MRTSI hopes to field half of the 77 buses by Nov. 16, as the SMPHI gears up for the opening of the SM Seaside on Nov. 26.
Aside from the franchise, the LTFRB 7 also has yet to approve the proposed fare matrix (P25, P40 and P75).
Each of the buses is 12 meters long and air-conditioned. They are equipped with WiFi, global positioning system and passenger information system, where estimated time of arrival and other information are flashed in monitors inside the bus.
Each bus has 42 seats but it can accommodate up to 90 people as passengers can also stand. The floor can be lowered or raised by up to 100 millimeters.
Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya expressed approval after inspecting one of the buses in Cebu last Oct. 8.
He said the DOTC has always supported buses as a mode of transportation because these, unlike jeepneys, can carry more passengers.