Many are following with utmost interest the efforts to ease traffic in Metro Manila, especially the victims of turtle-speed driving in most streets of the metropolis, who suffer daily stress as they weave through the congested roads. Of special interest to many is the request of the Executive Branch in seeking Congressional grant of emergency powers to President Rodrigo Duterte for the purpose of addressing what has become a national crisis by adopting and implementing comprehensive measures that could only be fully implemented through such an extraordinary remedy.
Converting the Pasig River to an alternative highway and attracting passengers into this inland waterway that passes through several Metro Manila cities was one of the ways identified to dislodge commuters from the roads. The Department of Transportation (DOTr) has included revitalizing the Pasig River Ferry system as one of its planned projects, a welcome initiative indeed.
Like many other Metro Manila commuters, I would like to know if there are plans to introduce a motorway at the Manila Bay. Earlier initiatives to operate vessels that will bring passengers from the Mall of Asia (MOA) to Sangley and from CCP to Limay, Bataan and vice versa, in a similar fashion as the Pasig River ferries, were short-lived. The Manila Bay ferries had the capacity of carrying, per trip, the number of passengers equivalent to two busloads or about 120 passengers. However, technical and operational challenges rendered the sustained operations of the ferries in Manila Bay difficult.
Should resuscitating the “motorway at the bay” be considered, it is expected that local government units (LGUs) would have concerns about having to accommodate ferries within municipal waters, especially where fishing and mussel or seaweed farming are being undertaken. Some LGUs may initially agree with having ferries passing through their municipal waters, but there is always the risk of them reneging on their commitment anytime if their constituents/voting base objects to the plan. Therefore, the sustained commitment of LGUs could be assured through emergency powers.
The provision of the necessary terminals and piers is another contentious issue as there is no clear policy on which entity should construct these. Government generally takes the stance that the ferry operator should be ready to put up the infrastructure such as terminals and piers as there would be no budget allocation to fund capital or infrastructure construction. Such is a matter that could be resolved by emergency powers.
In addition, safety issues need to be resolved as the installation of a traffic separation scheme to serve as the motorway for bay ferries becomes necessary. Manila Bay serves as the access area for cargo and passenger vessels trading in both domestic and international routes with port calls in Manila and therefore, collision regulations (rules of the road at sea) must be instituted.
The motorway at the bay is supported by road connections at both ends of the route and should be easily acceptable to commuters from Cavite, Manila, and Bataan. Still, the government’s decision to revive the ferry service in the Bay as an alternate mode of transport to ease traffic congestion ashore calls for a readiness to surmount the challenges that go with it.
It is my ardent wish DOTr includes in its proposed projects in the maritime sector that of optimizing the use of the country’s inland waterways and coastal waters in passenger transport.