Cebu takes the bus to the future


In the process, within five years, Metro Cebu could become more livable than Manila, and could break the back of its social problems.

This is the future in prospect when our government contracts this month a $116-million dollar loan from the World Bank for the construction of the country’s first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System in Cebu City.

With the BRT, Cebu will take a major step to the future, that sets a different paradigm for public transport and urban development than the one that Metro Manila—under the lead of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the Department of Transport and Communications (DOTC) —has been vainly trying to provide at such great cost and toll on the lives of residents and commuters.

For years now, I have been waiting and hoping for Filipino urban planners and managers to seriously consider the bus solution to traffic woes and public transport, ever since I read the work of New Yorker journalist  Bill McKibben about his travels and his discoveries of innovative solutions found by certain communities to urban problems such as transport, traffic and housing.

One such discovery of Mckibben was the midsize Brazilian city of Curitiba,

which has saved itself from the developers and broken the back of its social problems, and whose bus system is “the best on earth.” Its public housing program is a model of planning, slum improvement and self-help.

He considers Curitiba “among the world’s great cities.” He has compiled his observations and travels there in the book, Hope, human and Wild (Little,Brown, 1995).

Under the leadership of a young architect, Jaime Lerner, who became its mayor at 33, Curitiba was remade not for cars but for people. They replotted the city’s traffic flow, not only to make the downtown function without cars on its main street, but also to redirect growth throughout the city.

Lerner has said: “Memory is the identity of the city, and transport is the future.”

The blueprint for Cebu
I don’t know whether the Curitiba bus system is the model for the system which Cebu will adopt.

From the report in the Bulletin, the following were the bare facts about the loan and the project.

According to DOTC Assistant Secretary Jaime Feliciano, “Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima has been given the authority to sign the loan for the Philippine Government.” Feliciano disclosed this at the sidelines of the Transport Forum 2014 hosted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The planned Cebu BRT is envisioned as a public transport system with around 176 buses that will run through dedicated and exclusive bus-ways from Bulacao to Talamban in Cebu, with a link to Cebu’s South Road Property. The facility will run on a 23-kilometer corridor having 33 stations and is expected to serve an estimated 330,000 passengers per day when it starts operations.

The construction of the infrastructure is estimated to cost P10.618 billion, but the World Bank will only lend $116 million for the project.

“We’ll get the rest of the money from other sources, mostly government funds,” Feliciano said.

Once the WB loan is signed, Feliciano said the DOTC will bid out and then award the detailed engineering design contract, which will take between six and eight months to complete after the awarding.

“It’s possible to award the detailed engineering design contract next month. Then after six to eight months, we can start the bidding for the construction contract. We can probably assume that construction can start by 2016,” he explained.

Because Cebu has opted for the bus solution, there can be no doubt that its BRT will draw from the lessons and experience of Curitiba, which was the pioneer and exemplar in proving that buses can be the best solution to a city’s public transport challenge.

Curitiba’s solution to public transport woes

In his book, Bill Mckibben reported:
“Transport in the case of Curitiba means buses. Though larger Brazilian cities were investing in subways, Lerner and his team decided the subways were too expensive – that they were stuck with buses. They also decided that buses need not be stuck in traffic. They quickly designed the system of express lanes that sped travel to and from downtown, and ridership began to take off. In 1974, the system carried 25,000 passengers a day. By1993, the number was 1.5 million—or more than riders of the buses in New York City each day.

“Amazingly, the city doesn’t need to subsidize its bus service. The fleet is purchased and owned by private companies; the government assigns routes, sets fares, and pays each contractor by kilometer traveled. For about thirty cents, you can transfer as often as you want, and the whole netwok turns a profit.

“In Curitiba, I rode the bus every day. The bus serves you, and not the other way around; you feel in control of the city, not a victim of its tie-ups and bottlenecks and ancient traffic jams.”

Curitiba’s bus system is so good, it was tested for a couple of months in New York City. By all accounts, passengers loved the system, but then it disappeared into the black hole of bureaucracy.

In 1992, before Rio de Janeiro’s Earth summit, mayors and city planners gathered in Curitiba for an urban conference, to consider whether the city’s success was replicable elsewhere.

Lerner was level-headed about all the attention, and generous with his counsel. He said: “Many cities have a lot of people who are specialists in proving change is not possible. What I try to explain to them when I go to visit is that it takes the same energy to say why something can’t be done as to figure out how to do it.”

Cebu says it can be done. Bravo!


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  1. I remember your very first column about the damage Haiyan/Yolanda did to the Visayas. You correctly urged the government to use the tragedy as an opportunity not just to rebuild the Visayas but to have a vision for the development of the whole region as a major growth engine of the Philippines.
    Sadly and as usual, the Aquino adnministration has closed their eyes and ears to truly patrioti scientific and good-management ideas like yours.
    What a pity!

  2. The correct spelling for the name of the Brazilian city mentioned in the article is Curitiba.