During the Marcos administration, the Philippines made a great stride by developing the Light Rail Transit Line 1 (LRT-1).
Starting operations on December 1, 1984, the LRT-1 that traverses Bonifacio and Taft Avenues was the first city rail system in Southeast Asia. But even as the Marcos administration set the blue print for the development of seven city rail lines for Metro Manila, and operated a “Love Bus” route to link major city centers, the transport system of the metropolis remains backward by world standards.
While the LRT-2 that traverses Aurora Boulevard and Recto Avenue is world-class by technology standards, the backbone of Metro Manila’s transport system are still privately-owned jeepneys, Asian utility vehicles (AUVs) and vans, and buses. While buses can carry more passengers than vans, AUVs and jeepneys, their being privately-owned has resulted to their inefficient deployment, because bus drivers are forced to compete for passengers.
The present public transport system of Metro Manila has resulted to the inefficient movement of people, and those who have more money opt to buy cars which only worsens the current traffic congestion. An expert need not substantiate such facts.
In other countries, particularly in Asia, Malaysia has expanded its city railway system, while China and Indonesia have developed their own bus rapid transit (BRT) systems.
Fortunately, the BRT system is being proposed by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to serve commuters in Manila and Quezon City.
First tested in Curitiba, Brazil in 1974, the BRT system deploys buses along dedicated lanes, and passengers board and get off the bus units through dedicated stations.
Lauded as a less costly alternative to rail systems, BRT systems are growing in popularity partly because of the technologies being developed for the system, which include buses that run on electricity.
For sure, the BRT system will face opposition from private bus operators who continue to have profitable operations from the current “boundary” system that ensures their daily profits, while forcing drivers to break traffic rules to compete for passengers.
But given the worsening traffic in Metro Manila and the continued development of commercial and mixed-use centers, the Philippine government will soon be left with no choice but to put a BRT system in place for the metropolis, even if it means displeasing private bus operators.
Cebu City is also planning to develop its own BRT, and it would be a shame to Metro Manila if the Queen City of the South would be the first urban center in the Philippines to deploy such a system.
DOTC data showed that the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit System can move 330,000 passengers per day, which is almost the same capacity as the Metro Rail Transt Line 3 currently traversing EDSA.
While BRT systems are gaining popularity worldwide, the importance of railways in the transport mix can never be ignored.
For Metro Manila, the DOTC is studying a $5-billion commuter rail system connecting cities in Laguna and Bulacan with the metropolis. This would be feasible considering that the Philippine National Railways already has right-of-way in the provinces of Bulacan and Laguna.
It will definitely take a lot of political will for the government to put into place a BRT system in Metro Manila, and push for the P5-billion commuter rail. But letting the transport system of the metropolis stagnate or deteriorate in the face of increasing commercial developments would be unacceptable to the citizens of Metro Manila.