CBRT won't solve traffic
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CBRT won't solve traffic

THE Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (CBRT) project was never intended as a solution to the traffic woes in Cebu City but was designed to improve the quality and level of commuting service, safety and environmental efficiency of the more than 70 percent of the city’s population that rely on public transportation.

This was the clarification urban planner Nigel Paul Villarete made Friday, Jan. 12, 2024 following the suggestion by some city councilors, particularly Majority Floor Leader Jocelyn Pesquera and Councilor James Anthony Cuenco, to scrap the CBRT project.

Last Wednesday, Pesquera had pushed for the Cebu City Council to take a stand and stop the CBRT project after Cuenco gave a privilege speech urging the council to consider looking for other “more viable traffic solutions,” saying the CBRT project was already “manifesting the symptoms of the failed BRT systems in Hanoi, Vietnam; Bangkok, Thailand; and Delhi, India.”

Former Cebu City mayor Tomas Osmeña, who had pushed for the project when he was still mayor and congressman, voiced his opposition to the scrapping of the project, saying in a statement on Friday, that instead, “We should scrap Pesquera, Cuenco, including Rama and all their councilors. Save Cebu.”

Osmeña admitted that the CBRT is not perfect but emphasized its benefits to the “poor carless people in far-flung Pardo in the south to the far-flung north in Talamban.”

During the regular council session on Wednesday, Jan. 10, Pesquera said she had been against the BRT from the start, especially when she learned that similar projects in other countries like the one in Curitiba, Brazil and the one in Aminabad, India were not successful in fully addressing the traffic and transportation problem.

“Who said that it’s (CBRT) a traffic solution? BRT is never a traffic solution,” said Villarete in an interview over SunStar Cebu’s online news and commentary program “Beyond the Headlines” Friday.

Villarete said the project is intended for the more than 70 to 80 percent of Cebuanos who use public transportation. It is to give them a convenient and faster commuting experience when traveling to and from the northern and southern parts of the city.

Cebu BRT project manager Norvin Imbong agreed with Villarete, asking why a project with many benefits should be stopped.

“So with all of these benefits, why stop or scrap the project?” said Imbong in a text message on Thursday.

Since February 2023, Hunan Road and Bridge Construction Group Co. Ltd. has been working on Package 1 of the CBRT, which is expected to become operational in the first quarter of this year. Package 1 spans 2.38 kilometers with four bus stations from the Cebu South Bus Terminal on N. Bacalso Ave. to the front of the Capitol building on Osmeña Blvd.

Villarete said the BRT was not designed for car-riding people.

He also clarified that the BRT in Cebu has its own dedicated bus lane, unlike in Hanoi, Vietnam which has mixed-traffic.

BRT advantages

In a published article of SunStar Cebu in October 2009, the Cebu BRT was described as working like a train system, but using buses instead of train coaches and bus lanes instead of train tracks, improving the mobility of Cebu residents while reducing pollution and increasing travel safety.

In the same article, Villarete, along with Dr. Cresencio Montalbo Jr. of the University of the Philippines National Center for Traffic Studies, and Colin Brader of Australia-based International Transport Planning Ltd., said some advantages of the BRT include the use of high-speed, high-capacity vehicles, as the buses have the same capacity as most tram systems.

Brader also said the BRT is cost-effective.

The BRT also has less social and environmental impacts, with fewer people affected or displaced during the construction.

In September 2014, when the World Bank approved the $141 million loan for the project, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama said that with the BRT, the savings in travel time, and reduction in pollution and number of traffic accidents would make “Metro Cebu an even more vibrant and pleasant home for residents, tourists, and business people to live, invest and create more jobs.”

The Cebu City Government started discussions on the proposed BRT system to address Cebu’s transport challenges during the term of then mayor Osmeña.

In 1997, Osmeña visited Curitiba, where the first BRT was implemented in 1974.

In 2008, the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund Japan all approved the prefeasibility study, according to Osmeña.

Osmeña hit councilors

In a statement on Friday, Osmeña accused Cuenco of favoring private cars over public transportation, saying, “Elitist Cuenco wants to treat private cars like first-class citizens and public transportation as second-class citizens (status quo).”

Osmeña said the BRT prioritizes the majority, particularly those who rely on public transportation.

Under the administrations of Edgardo Labella and Rama, Osmeña claimed, the routes to Barangays Pardo and Talamban were canceled, with the BRT now benefiting the stretch from SM Seaside City Cebu in the South Road Properties (SRP) to Ayala. He said that despite the reduced distance from 25 kilometers to 12 kilometers, the project’s cost remains at P16 billion.

“To the poor Cebuanos, I say the joke is on you,” Osmeña said.

“Worse, you have to shop by SM and Ayala before you go home to Talamban and Pardo,” he added.

Osmeña said there was a lot more he could add, but that helping Cebu was no longer his responsibility.

“Let’s just get high on Rama’s dream of Singapore and Cuenco’s fantasy of a subway,” Osmeña said.

Cuenco had proposed exploring a coastal monorail system and a mass rapid transit subway system, while Rama made turning Cebu “Singapore-like” his goal on returning as mayor in May 2022.

Most stupid

On Thursday, Mayor Rama also gave his response to Pesquera and Cuenco’s statements, saying, “Scrapping the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit is the most stupid thing to do.”

In his privilege speech Wednesday, Cuenco raised concerns about the delayed implementation of the CBRT, its increasing cost, poor planning as evidenced by the numerous changes it had undergone, and alleged flaws in its current design, including in its proposed road length and width.

Cuenco said the addition of BRT lanes would mean less space for those driving private vehicles, delivery trucks and motorcycles, and that its implementation on narrow roads in Hanoi on a mere 14 kilometers, “similar to our 13.8-kilometer BRT Packages 1 & 2,” meant that the exclusive BRT lane was often encroached on by private vehicles, which remained the popular choice of transportation.

Rama found the statements of the two councilors “offensive,” especially since, according to him, they had not suggested solutions to the city’s traffic situation if the project was halted.

Villarete said scrapping the project will hamper the mobility of the commuting public in the city.

Villarete emphasized that the delays in the implementation of the BRT were due to several officials wanting to stop it, including the then-transportation secretary Arthur Tugade, the then-Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Secretary Michael Dino, and Labella.

In 2018, the Department of Transportation recommended to cancel the CBRT project, saying Cebu City’s roads are so narrow that such a system would be inefficient here.

Villarete said scrapping a national project follows the same process when asking for its approval.

He said the approval of the entire Cebu City Council, the mayor, Cebu City Development Council, Regional Development Council, Investment Coordination Committee, National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), and of the president of the country are needed before a project can be stopped.

Last November, Neda announced several changes in the CBRT, including the change in the completion date from 2025 to 2027; the change in the design, which now includes Package 4, which is a dedicated lane from Bulacao to Mambaling; extension of the alignment from Ayala to Cebu IT Park; a rotunda underneath the Mambaling flyover; and the conversion of a mixed traffic lane along the SRP coastal road and along F. Vestil St.; and raising of the project cost from P16.3 billion to P28.78 billion.

Last October, the Neda board, chaired by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., approved the additional P12 billion budget for the project, the extension of the implementation period until the end of December 2027, and the adjustment of the loan validity from the French Development Agency (AFD) and the World Bank to September 2027.

The World Bank approved a $116 million loan for the project in 2014. The AFD granted the Philippine Government a loan worth $57.4 million for the mass transport system whose project start date the French agency listed as Feb. 26, 2015. (JJL/AML)

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