Though I'm not too keen on Bayani's Fernando's design ethic (what with pink overpasses and pink fences) but his efforts to put together the organized bus route system is commendable. I know they are packaging it as a traffic solution (which gives lie to where the squeaky wheel is in urban planning decisions -pun intended) but it really is a step towards creating Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for Metro Manila.
BRT systems, also known as the "poor man's light rail," have been succesfully deployed in a number of Latin American cities. (Most notably: Curitiba, Brazil; in Bogota, Columbia; and lately, Mexico City, Mexico. BRT provides a cheaper way of organizing transport systems, and with political will, can do wonders for relieving urban gridlock while saving cities money.
It is generally not high on the list of systems recommended by multi-lateral funding agencies, or official aid programs as they can be implemented without expensive foreign engineering consultants or and don't require the recipient city to buy expensive technology from the sponsor country.
BRTs, if deployed correctly, offer a host of benefits apart from better public transport. Some notes from Bogota's Transmillenio:
The air is not pure in Bogota, either. The inefficiency of the public transport system in the Colombian capital is one more problem affecting the quality of life of the population, in addition to the violence associated with the illegal drug trade, the civil war and crime in general.
The mayor's office launched the "Transmilenio" plan in late 2000, aimed at improving transportation services and air quality in Bogota, the third most contaminated city in Latin America.
In two years, Transmilenio has increased the average speed of city buses from 10 kph to 25 kph, slashed the number of fatal traffic accidents and saved 10 million dollars a year in costs related to air pollution by reducing the incidence of respiratory illnesses.
Until the plan took effect, 22,000 outdated buses were used by more than 70 percent of Bogota's seven million residents, while just 19 percent traveled in 850,000 individual cars.
The Bogota bus fleet was too large (more than 3.5 buses for every 1,000 inhabitants), with a life of 14 years per unit and an average speed of 10 kph.
"Passengers spent an average of more than two hours a day in transit," said Transmilenio's chief of planning and administration, Angelica Castro.
The new system includes designated lanes for buses, four-lane roads with stops every 500 m along the meridian, leaving the exterior lanes for non-stop buses.
According to the plan, by 2016 the city will have 388 km of bus lanes, 300 km of bicycle routes and a new bus fleet equipped with catalytic converters to curb pollutants. They public buses will also be designed taking into account the needs of children, the elderly and the disabled.
The program seeks to dissuade the use of individual cars. In the works are a 100-percent hike in parking prices for downtown Bogota, and a 20 percent tax on gasoline. Half of those revenues will go toward financing infrastructure intended to fight air pollution.
BF's OBR, combined with a clear commitment fo converting to CNG buses would do wonders for Metro Manila. (Of course, they could do more with the aesthetics.)
The root of our transport problems though lies in how we have tended to view roads as investments, but public transport as a marketplace. -- more in next post.