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MAPping the Future

Edsa Busway: Transformative

/ 04:00 AM October 26, 2020

(First of two parts)

For decades up to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in March 2020, the traffic and public transportation problem on Edsa had deteriorated with devastating effect on society and economy. Deep skepticism and disappointment pervaded the public sphere and engendered a mindset among some that these twin urban problems could not be solved. Instituting change under such conditions was very challenging.

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Further, institutional fragmentation with a three-way power sharing arrangement in Metro Manila does not lend to optimal governance. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), governed by a council of 17 mayors with a rotating chair, has partial jurisdiction over public services, primarily traffic management. Public transportation is under national agencies—the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), which although affected by traffic, have no representation in the council. Edsa’s infrastructure is under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Front and center of the problem is the ineffectiveness of the yellow bus lanes on Edsa, making severe traffic congestion regular occurrences and hellish commute. Being on conflict lanes, buses and cars were switching in and out of the yellow lanes and blocking the orderly flow of traffic. Any number of buses, licensed or otherwise, may enter and use the lanes because of uncontrolled access. Bus flow management was impossible.

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MAP takes action

By 2015, carmageddon assumed crisis proportions. Francisco Del Rosario, who was then president of the MAP, supported the Traffic, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee with this author as the chair, and authorized the presentation of the output—The Traffic and Transportation Problems of Metro-Manila: A Holistic Approach, in a general meeting on Aug. 26, 2015.

This author presented a menu of short, medium and long-term solutions, including a new busway at the inner lanes to replace the ineffective yellow bus lanes, grounded on the three essential elements for a sustainable solution to traffic congestion and they are engineering, education and enforcement.

The general meeting achieved the desired objective of generating public awareness and the catalyst for government response. It also placed MAP in solidarity with the suffering public and businesses, and showed MAP as a positive force for change that led to this transformational development on Edsa.

Lockdown opportunity

Fast forward to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the protracted lockdown starting March 15 that provided an unusual window of opportunity, as commuter traffic scaled down drastically. Introducing a new bus system became manageable.

On May 10, I wrote “Don’t waste a crisis” stating that “crisis is opportunity and must be used to institute reforms in public transportation,” particularly the new inner lane busway which was not previously implemented. And, in another article “operate the individually operated buses as an organized system.”

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade seized the opportunity, exercised leadership, and took bold action by mobilizing his DOTr team and support of MMDA. The mission: Put in place an alternative public transportation system to address system deficiencies, including replacement of the ineffective yellow lanes and in the process, improve bus system on Edsa, Metro Manila’s busiest and most congested highway.

Directives issued by Sec. Tugade implemented complementary reform measures—new busway at the innermost lanes adjacent to the MRT 3 line and LTFRB’s bus franchise rationalization and route restructuring, highlighted by a single “Carousel” bus route on Edsa.

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This new bus scheme is another game changer as it prevented Edsa from being flooded by buses from 61 feeder routes. These reforms were meticulously planned over many months and made ready when conditions warrant. The ideal scenario materialized finally when stringent lockdown was imposed, then downgraded on June 1 in time for the dry run of the new system.

Master strokes

Dual-purposing the facilities of the MRT 3 was a master stroke as it quickly provided the essential interim access with persons with disabilities (PWD) lifts over the Edsa roadway to the bus station platform located at the median island underneath the MRT 3 carriageway. Another was availing of the core competence of bus operators and their bus assets, which laudably reduced resistance, hastened project implementation and cut capital expenditures to a level of relative insignificance. These enlightened policy approaches are the hallmarks of DOTr’s reform initiatives that enabled quick, low cost and disruption-free implementation.

Significantly, the reforms included the vital engineering element—a new dedicated busway. Busways, first introduced in England in 1971, are not a new concept. In 1973, Curitiba in Brazil introduced the main features of a rapid bus transit system on busways. By 2018, 146 cities in 6 continents have busways carrying over 32 million passengers daily. Jakarta has the longest system with 256 kilometers. The Guangzhou BRT in China is the gold standard, with over a million passengers carried daily.

In our situation, placing the busway at the inner most lanes as a dedicated, protected, access controlled and intersection-free on the densest stretch of the corridor conformed to global standards. Accredited buses and emergency vehicles now run efficiently at a fourth of the travel time before. Buses are no longer contributory to congestion in other lanes.

Remarkable progress

Much has been achieved since June. From its initial stretch on Edsa starting at North Ave to Makati, which is the densest, opened within just two weeks, the busway is being extended from Monumento in Caloocan to its terminus in the Parañaque central bus terminal (PTIX). Buses with left-facing door were introduced on Aug. 19, with more on the way.

Currently, 15 bus stations are completed and being operationalized as the needed barriers become available. Bus supply is being calibrated to meet passenger demand. The system can be scaled up to carry over 1 million passengers per day.

The Edsa busway has proven the concept of inner lane busway with organized bus system. It has broken the technical and policy barriers and pointed to the feasibility of upgrading this evolving busway infrastructure to a gold standard rated busway with rapid bus service.

The public is now confronted with two starkly contrasting situations in Edsa. The new busway is free and flowing, rain or shine, while private vehicle lanes, now occupying four lanes from the previous 3, are often caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Car lane congestion has different causes and requires a different set of solutions, particularly a more effective vehicle volume reduction measure such as high occupancy vehicle rule. Car plate coding scheme has not yielded the needed result.

Continuous improvements of this work in progress will ensure a brighter future where the majority of commuters will have high levels of satisfaction and convenience in service, to the point where private vehicle owners willingly choose to take public transportation and leave their car behind. More so when Edsa is transformed into a softer, greener, bikeable and walkable avenue, at the same level as the great avenues of the world. Efficient mass transit requires less vehicles and will open up road space for this transformation. INQ

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