Why BRT on EDSA makes sense


Rush hour travel is getting worse with more motor vehicles on the road and less mobility. People in cities all over the country are rising earlier and getting home later. The time consumed by congestion is no longer counted in days or months. In a Filipino’s lifespan, the wasted time can be counted in years of a person’s life.

EDSA is the corridor that best depicts our mobility crisis. The main centers of jobs and activity in the metropolis are along or near EDSA—Ortigas Center, Cubao, Makati, BGC, North EDSA, NAIA and MOA. People travel along EDSA to access these places daily. The challenge is to move the maximum number of people on EDSA—fast, safely and conveniently. If we focus on moving cars rather than people, it’s a losing battle and we prioritize the interest of the wealthiest 10%.

Over two million passengers move along EDSA each day—close to 500,000 on MRT3, about 1.3 million in buses and jeepneys, and about 400,000 in private cars and motorcycles. This doesn’t count people walking or on bicycles. Because of the pace of urbanization and population growth, the number of people traveling on EDSA will continue to increase. There’s also a lot of suppressed demand for public transport which would emerge if higher quality transport is available. By 2025, the demand for public transport on EDSA will exceed 2.5 million daily trips. It will grow to over three million daily trips by 2030.

Each day, commuters on EDSA endure excruciating journey. At rush hour, MRT3 riders face long queues and densely packed trains. Buses and cars crawl at 5 kph or slower. Bus stops and terminals overflow with commuters unable to catch a ride. Because public transport supply is sorely inadequate, commuters swallow their dignity and push and shove their way to find space on a bus, train or jeepney.

A worker living in Fairview, Quezon City has to rise before 4 am in order to reach Makati by 8 am. Travel time routinely exceeds three hours each way for a distance of just 26 kilometers. This grueling routine of many Filipinos has taken a toll on well-being and family life over and above its massive economic cost. This is not acceptable.

With the declining quality and unreliability of public transport, the aspiration of every commuter is to own a motor vehicle—a car or motorcycle—which can offer them more control and convenience than what they endure today. Sadly, more private vehicles deliver more congestion. What can we do to break this downward spiral? We have to make public transport, both rail and bus, high quality and plentiful.

Public transport should be accessible, convenient and safe. And it should get people to their destinations faster than by private motor vehicles. Accordingly, public transport should have priority over private cars in road use. Once car users are willing to shift to public transport, congestion will ease and the quality of life in our cities will improve significantly. Here’s how we can apply this principle to EDSA.

Fixing and expanding MRT3 is urgently needed. But that isn’t enough. Even with more train sets, only about 800,000 passengers per day can be considered as MRT3’s maximum capacity based on a decent level of crowding inside the coaches. Metro Manila Subway, when completed, will handle about 400,000 passengers per day. Together, the Subway and MRT3 will satisfy less than half of the travel demand along EDSA. The majority of EDSA commuters will still rely on buses.

If buses remain low quality and stuck in traffic (and if rail is the only mode with predictable travel times), bus riders will opt to shift from bus to rail. MRT3 (and likewise the Subway) will have long queues and become even more congested. They will be considered low quality options. Train and bus riders will still aspire to shift to car use.

It’s in this context that a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system on EDSA makes sense. On congested roads, BRT facilitates “people mobility” by liberating a lane for buses. Unimpeded by private vehicles, BRT buses travel at speeds of 25-50 kph just like trains. BRT is the fastest growing form of mass transit globally, carrying daily more than 32 million people in 166 cities around the world.

EDSA buses today occupy two curbside “Yellow Lanes” in each direction. But there is constant friction with private vehicles that need to turn right or go to parking spaces or driveways on the curbside. Moving the bus lanes to the median solves this problem. With EDSA BRT, only one lane for buses would be needed at the median plus a “passing lane” around the BRT stations (constructed in the space below the MRT3 infrastructure). The remaining lanes would be for private vehicles.

EDSA buses also behave badly because drivers get a commission for higher revenue, encouraging on-street competition among buses. EDSA BRT will eliminate this hazard by changing the industry business model into one where existing EDSA bus operators will form consortia and operate BRT buses under long term performance-based service contracts. Best practices from cities like London and Singapore will be followed.

Bus operators will be paid on a “fee per kilometer” basis, rather than for ridership. Drivers will have decent working hours and fixed salary and benefits. Each bus will have two-three shifts of drivers so there will be many new jobs (including safety inspection, customer service, station maintenance and security, etc.) that can absorb existing employees in the bus industry.

The EDSA BRT bus fleet will be new, air-conditioned, low emission, with wifi, and accessible even for people on wheelchairs or strollers. BRT buses will also travel beyond EDSA. They will bring passengers closer to their destinations (e.g., to Ayala Ave., Ortigas Center, BGC, NAIA, Alabang, Fairview, Valenzuela, Dasmarinas, etc.), minimizing the need for transfers.

EDSA BRT will carry about 1.6 million passengers per day at the start of operations, expandable to over 2.5 million passengers per day with the addition of bigger buses. The capacity of EDSA BRT, plus the 1.2 million passengers of MRT3 and the Subway, can move up to 3.7 million passengers daily along EDSA in high quality public transport. That’s sufficient to cover projected travel demand on EDSA well beyond 2030.

Commuters will have much shorter travel time with BRT. Instead of a three-hour trip from Fairview to Makati, travel time will be cut to a little over an hour each way. Faster travel also means more round trips per bus and more efficient operations.

The existing buses on EDSA, if they pass inspection and meet LTFRB specifications, won’t be wasted or discarded. They can be readily shifted to provincial or other bus services. LTFRB has signaled that they’ll accept applications for new routes and franchises. EDSA bus operators can take advantage of this opportunity to expand and diversify their business.

The EDSA BRT Project also includes an accessibility component to create over 100 kilometers of walkways and protected bikeways around Metro Manila. One can ride a bicycle safely from Marikina to Ayala Ave. along the banks of the Marikina and Pasig Rivers. Sidewalks will be improved and expanded within a 400-meter radius around every BRT and MRT3 station. The project will make Metro Manila a healthier and walkable metropolis.

Because both BRT and rail can offer faster travel times compared with cars stuck in traffic, car users will be interested to shift to public transport thereby reducing congestion in the car lanes. MRT3 will be less congested because commuters can use a fast and reliable public transport option. And in case of any emergency affecting MRT3, an alternative mass transit system on EDSA is invaluable.

Further expansion of MRT3 capacity beyond 800,000 daily passengers will require extension of the station platforms so that longer train sets can be used. This is only possible if the MRT3 system is shut down for major rehabilitation. Having an alternative mass transit system on EDSA such as the BRT will allow MRT3 to undergo this infrastructure upgrade without significant inconvenience for commuters.

EDSA BRT was designed by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), one of the leading BRT planners in the world. The project has already received the green light from the NEDA Board after careful review by its Investment Coordinating Committee. It was one of the first transport infrastructure projects to be confirmed under the administration of President Duterte. It has an approved multi-year budget including funding for 2018. It can be completed and fully operational by 2021, delivering life-changing benefits to millions of Filipinos within this administration. It will transform the character of Metro Manila.

In promoting mobility, reducing congestion and advancing social justice, no other transport investment will have significant impact in three years time.

There is no time to waste.

Robert Y. Siy is a development economist, city and regional planner, and public transport advocate. He can be reached at mobilitymatters.ph@yahoo.comorfollowed on Twitter @RobertRsiy

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