MOST major cities which have a central river weaving through it make full use of the transport and tourism possibilities it provides. Rivers such as the Thames in London, Seine in Paris and, more closer to home, Chao Phraya in Bangkok (which is, perhaps, the best example of a working river since a good part of the populous living in the crowed capital rely on the river for their daily commute) come to mind.
Which brings us to the sad, sorry plight of the Pasig, which over the decades has had many patrons—both politically connected or just civic minded. But its fortunes never seem to change —even though it meanders past the most famous address in the Philippines.
The latest person to bat for its cause is a member of Congress who is calling for the immediate revival of the Pasig River Ferry Service Project, this time through the use of smaller boats—and in a greater number—that will allow quicker trips between stations.
“The project initially failed because the private operator deviated from the original plan, and used bigger and fewer boats,” points out LPG-MA Rep. Arnel Ty, a member of the House transportation committee.
The original plan was for the deployment of 18 boats with 50 seats each. The operator instead provided only six vessels with 150 seats each. As a result commuters hardly availed of the ferry service because they had to wait for a long time for the boat to fill up and depart.
The ferry service operated from March 2007 to December 2010 before the boat operator gave up, citing P94 million in cumulative financial losses on account of low ridership amid rising fuel costs.
“We are hopeful that the use of smaller and more boats will allow faster trips departing at shorter intervals, thus encouraging a greater number of commuters to patronize the service,” Ty says.
He fully supports Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya’s plan to revive the ferry service, so as not to waste the borrowing incurred by the government to support the project.
The Government tapped a P181-million loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to build the project’s 10 ferry stations.
“The ADB loan aside, we really have to develop the Pasig River to provide an alternative means of public transport that is fast, safe and affordable. Our land-based road network in Metro Manila is getting congested faster than we can expand it,” Ty notes.
Restarting the ferry service will also help create new employment and livelihood opportunities for low-income households who live in and around the 10 stations.
Ty agreed with the COA’s recommendation for the project to be restored via open and competitive bidding by prospective new private operators that can readily comply with the initially required 18 vessels with 50 passengers each.
Ayala Land, which has major property development projects in riverbank townships around Metro Manila, earlier implied it might be interested in helping to renew the ferry service project which has the all-important backing of the Department of Transportation and Communications, Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission and the Metro Manila Development Authority.
Like in Bangkok, the tourism potential of a rehabilitated, pollution-free Pasig River is tremendous, and its potential on that front has never been tapped. Imagine tourists cruising past Malacañang Palace while a guide gives them a riveting commentary on the place . . . scandals, intrigues and all!
There is a popular pop song in England entitled “Ferry across the Mersey”, which celebrates the River Mersey which dissects Liverpool, the northern British city that gave the world The Beatles.
Could there be a day when an enterprising Filipino composer might do likewise with a romantic ditty called “Ferry across the Pasig”? We can but hope!