It’s time to prioritize Bus Rapid Transit

LAST week, amid images of commuters queuing and struggling to access scarce public transport, very sad news was the report that the World Bank had withdrawn its funding for the project from the Manila Metro (BRT) Line 1 (Quezon Avenue BRT), citing minimal progress.

The previous government should be blamed for its lack of attention to public road transport, exemplified here by the neglect of crucial projects such as the Quezon Avenue BRT. In the first year of the Duterte administration, three BRT projects (Cebu BRT for 330,000 daily passengers; Quezon Avenue BRT for 290,000 daily passengers; and EDSA BRT for 1.65 million daily passengers) were ready for implementation. implemented, with NEDA board approvals in hand and funding secured from bilateral and multilateral lenders. Additionally, a Davao bus project was at an advanced stage of project preparation in 2017, with technical assistance provided by the Asian Development Bank.

In six years, no bus project has seen the light of day. All four transit projects could have been operational before the end of the Duterte administration. They could have increased public transport capacity at a crucial time and provided high quality bus services. Due to its inaction, the Duterte administration has lost a valuable opportunity to improve the welfare of commuters in a timely and substantial way. The Duterte government missed the opportunity, while still in power, to provide more than 2 million passengers a day with a much improved public transport experience. The current government should not make the same mistake. In 2016, these four bus projects were already urgent; they make even more sense today. They should be among the priority projects of the Marcos administration.

A BRT is one of the best options for improving mobility in cities. When roads are congested, it makes sense to free up lanes for the use of higher capacity vehicles so that more people can be moved using the same road space. With buses on an exclusive lane, a BRT provides commuters with faster travel times, as well as increased comfort, safety and convenience. Well-designed BRT stations and buses mean efficient boarding, alighting and accessibility, even for people in wheelchairs or strollers. BRT buses could even be electric, offering stable operating costs despite fluctuating oil prices. A BRT can also be implemented in less time and at a much lower cost than a rail system.

BRT is not a new technology; it was first implemented in 1974 in Curitiba, Brazil. Today, 181 cities are equipped with BRT, carrying more than 33.6 million passengers per day. The Rio de Janeiro BRT carries over 3 million passengers per day (carrying over 60,000 passengers per hour per direction) while the Bogota BRT system carries over 2 million passengers per day (approximately 45,000 passengers per hour and per direction). Jakarta has the longest BRT system in the world, covering over 250 kilometers and serving over one million passengers daily. The Guangzhou BRT moves 35,000 passengers per hour per direction. Efficient BRT systems can match the capacity of light rail systems.

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A BRT offers the opportunity to modernize vehicles, increase ridership, and operate with improved efficiency and financial viability. Bus operators provide service on the basis of long-term service contracts (usually 5-10 years) based on performance and are paid according to kilometers traveled rather than the number of passengers. This avoids risky and inefficient driving behaviors associated with street competition for passengers. As part of service contracts, incentives and penalties are applied to motivate compliance with agreed service standards.

The Philippines needs both rail and BRT to provide sufficient mass transit in major cities and the two modes need to be well integrated and complementary. On high volume corridors, it makes sense to have both rail and BRT; redundancy benefits the commuter. Passengers can easily transfer from trains to buses to get closer to their destinations, as we already see on EDSA. Buses offer an easy travel alternative when trains are crowded or offline. In Seoul, there are 10 subway lines that fully overlap BRT routes. In London there are 8,000 red city buses with routes that cover much of the same network as the London Underground.

The Busway EDSA, launched during the pandemic on a “pop-up” basis, has already demonstrated the value of placing high-capacity vehicles on dedicated lanes to move people efficiently. Because the EDSA Busway was introduced on a very low budget, it is still far from reaching its potential. With significant investment in vehicles and station infrastructure, the EDSA Busway will be able to carry three to four times as many passengers as is currently possible. The station infrastructure can also be improved to provide better weather protection and full accessibility for people with disabilities.

At a time when additional public transport capacity is needed, when bus operations need to run efficiently and cost-effectively, when commuters need safe, sufficient, reliable and comfortable travel, BRT is a public transport option attractive in metropolitan areas and secondary cities of the country. With the Duterte administration having invested nearly 2 trillion pesos for railway development and only negligible sums for public road transport, the Marcos administration can correct the serious imbalance in the public transport portfolio with major investments in the BRT and other road public transport. projects. Filipinos deserve better sooner.

Robert Y. Siy is a development economist, urban and regional planner, and public transport advocate. He can be reached at [email protected] or follow on Twitter at @RobertRsiy.

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