Malilong: LRT over the BRT: Osmeña 0, Dino 1?

Frank Malilong

TWO good friends – Joel Garganera and Jonji Gonzalez – sent to me within an hour of each other last Saturday evening two identical messages explaining why the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is not good for Cebu. Joel is an incumbent Cebu City councilor while Jonji is an assistant secretary in the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV).

Both claimed, however, that their message “is not political” and that they were sending it “for the love of Cebu” and “for a better Cebu.”

The chain message said there are valid reasons for the cancellation of the BRT, one of which is that the city has narrow roads. “Dedicated lanes will restrict cars to 1 or 2 lanes. The loss of a 3-and-a-half meter-lane of road to BRT only increases the odds of worsening traffic congestion.”

Garganera and Gonzalez further claimed that the lack of plans to widen the roads argue against the adequacy of the BRT as a mass transport system. “Worse, the Ayala-Talamban section will not have a dedicated lane. Buses will merge into traffic with private and public utility vehicles.”

The day after Joel and Jonji sent their exactly-worded messages, Secretary Mike Dino, Jonji’s boss in the OPAV, issued a press statement announcing that a consortium of Chinese and Philippine companies is working closely with the Philippine government towards establishing a Light Rail Transit (LRT) for Metro Cebu. Does that mean that we will be speaking of the BRT in the past tense soon, if not now?

I have no favorites. All that I want to see is the establishment of a mass transport system to help address our worsening traffic situation. BRT or LRT? It does not matter. My beef, however, is that it has been more than 25 years when the BRT was conceived and several agencies of the government, including the same Department of Transportation that appears to be now favoring the rival LRT, have reviewed (meticulously, I suppose) and approved the plan and it is only now that they’re telling us that it is not good (a disaster, to use their exact language) for Cebu?

If it took more than 25 years for the BRT to languish before it was dealt a mortal blow (if such is the case), how long will we have to wait before we can have our first ride on the Metro Cebu train? The press release said work should begin next year.

Wait, does that mean that they have already awarded the LRT project to the consortium? Isn’t it that under the government procurement law, certain processes have to be followed before a contractor can be chosen? Or are the proponents certain that President Duterte will short-circuit the processes, using his emergency powers, and instruct the consortium to get moving?

There is no more need to destroy the BRT before the public. Recent developments tend to show that it is heading to certain death, if it is not dead yet. Looks like Mayor Tomas Osmeña lost and Dino won. So Joel and Jonji, the next time you send me chain letters, will you just please explain why the LRT will work and when?