Sunday, May 10, 2009

Traffic Jam or Mobility – What does CEBU city wants?

By Sudhir Gota

Enrique Peñalosa, Former Mayor of Bagota is an accomplished public official, economist, administrator and champion of sustainable transportation. I was fortunate to hear him many a times and always he comes up with a statement which forces a person to come out of shell. During the Cebu City BRT Studies Coordination Conference, he asked the audience a question - Traffic Jam or Mobility – What would Cebu City wants and what would BRTS solve?

For many of us, traffic Jam and mobility are two faces of the same coin but not for him. According to him, BRTS would solve the mobility problem of Cebu citizens but may not solve the congestion problem. BRTS would improve public transport but may not guarantee 100% congestion mitigation as car owners may not shift to BRTS if they are allotted lot of space. He suggests that the question of Congestion can be solved only by traffic restriction.

The recipe for the success is to combine the public transportation improvements with car restrictions. So far the Asian cities have failed to realize this aspect. It may be difficult to count the number of cities which has combined these two aspects…

Cebu BRTS which is currently being planned in Philippines can make or break the BRTS development in Philippines. My colleague Bert Fabian says that Cebu BRTS is very important for Philippines and it has to succeed at all cost!! I have never seen him so anxious. What can be the reason for his anxiety? When asked for the reason, he counter-questions “out of 75 BRTS systems which are being planned, executed or running in Asia, how many can succeed like Latin American cities? How many are success stories that are being told across the world as Curitiba and Bogotá? “. I don’t have any answers for this. Do you?

Peñalosa has an interesting take on this. According to him If Bogotá can succeed than any Asian city should succeed. Then the question is why there is not even a single success story as Latin American cities? The answer according to John Ernst (ITDP) can be the invisible problems I.e. institutionalization which we often fail to notice and which creates impedance for the evolvements of the system later.

The Cebu BRTS officer “Paul Villarete” is currently losing sleep over this question. He says that engineering problems can be solved but difficult ones are the questions about institualization and operator issues. He is worried as to if the road agencies allow BRTS to operate?

National government agencies like DOTC are lending all the support for BRTS cause, but the challenges are great. He acknowledges that Cebu is in the best position in Philippines due to strong local support. The agencies have already started the social and media drive to garner the support for this initiative and are hoping that Car owners would understand that there are no other solutions possible.

Some of the aspects which Penalosa emphasized during his speech were

1. We are building new cities in Asia… we can make the change or suffer later. It’s in our choice as what kind of city we want to our children.
2. The half baked systems are being named BRTS for variety of reasons and this is creating a bad name for BRTS. He says that good BRTS is not cheap but, yes, it is cheaper than cheapest metro. A Good BRTS may cost 10 Million USD/ km.
3. What is a good city? According to him – a good city is a city where people want to live out of homes and in public spaces.
Footpaths are the the indicator to measure cities
4. How does democratic county city distribute space between pedestrian, bikes, Public transport and car. It’s a political decision and not a decision of transport expert

5. Great sidewalks are essential, both parallel and perpendicular... trips start from home and not from station and this aspect is often neglected.

Inspired by his speech, I decided to decode the Transport system of Cebu and analyze its Transportation system. I had walked on two earlier days, so this time I decided to investigate with a car (apologies for generating emissions in Cebu!! ). On a fine Sunday morning, I started my investigation with my driver “Andres B Lumapar”.

Andres has been driving in Cebu cities from past twenty years and it is no more a joy for him. He curses the traffic as the root cause of all his problems and suggests that city should widen the roads. I decided to transform him during my investigation. We started with the possible BRTS corridor which is main road linking Talisay to Mandaue centers.

My initial reaction on seeing the corridor was that it could cater for 4000-5000 passengers per hour per direction easily during the starting years. Andres was suggesting that the traffic was low today on account of Sunday early hours. I asked him why and he replied fewer cars on the road. This was the moment I was waiting for and I jumped into my lecture of transport demand management and started giving him the tips on sustainable transportation intermittently during the journey.

I decided to do my road inventory survey while moving in the car as I used to do in my previous life. The average stream speed was nearing 28 km as the corridor had lot of junctions. The biggest challengePaul Villarete and his team would have in this corridor would be the social issues.

The next visit was to the South Coastal Road. This road has lot of induced traffic. This road can provide wealth of information on “induced traffic” for the researchers. The developments have started sprouting across the corridor. The greenery, free corridor and the Sea were making Andres to push the limits and in no time we were touching the 60 kmph mark. The corridor traffic is currently less but would increase as the developments take shape across the influence region.

I got hyper active after seeing the transport and decided to investigate the entire city (initially I had planned for 3 hours of car emissions). Andres was happy as the meter was busy. I was keeping one eye on meter and another on the road and feeling my purse for the money with my hand. We decided to look first at the city development. As I was reading the map, Andres suggested the idea of physically seeing the city growth from the “Tops”. In case if you are wondering what is “Tops”, it is a location which offers panoramic view of the city from the mountains. It was about 10 Km from our current location and we reached there at no time.

The panoramic view allowed me to look at various subsidiary business districts.
The city Cebu is rapidly expanding. The new bridge which linked the main island with “lapo-lapo” in early 2000 increased the accessibility and has guided the development in this direction. I was hoping that the proposed reclamation project ensures some stability in the movement of people as according to Andres, average cebu person travels nearly 9-10 km to access the jobs. If this is true then I think that cebu urgently needs to look at the development plans as it is “high” when compared to other asian cities of the same size.

The next 7 hours were spent on Cebu streets with a quick lunch at an Indian restaurant. We visually saw the entire city roads. I was happy to gain wisdom on Cebu transportation and Andres with heavy travel bill. In order to complete my lecture series to him, I made quick analysis of CO2 emissions (we travelled for 282 km during the day and his vehicle had an efficiency of 13 km/l, which means approx 52 Kgs of CO2) and explained to him the importance of tail-pipe emissions, need for good maintenance and importance of respecting the traffic laws. Andres after sustaining my verbal onslaught for the entire day understood the complexities of transport and was pointing towards smoke belchers at the end of the day. He promised that in future he would keep an eye on the transport behavior and would respect pedestrians and bikers.

I am sharing few of my thoughts – though the trip was expensive and taxing but was worth it...
1. Freight sector needs planning as port lies in middle of city. Maybe they can target freight master plan.
2. City has much potential to make it livable. People like to live outside.
3. It’s not polluted as Manila though the smoke belchers exist

4. The signals looked like they were synchronized (cycle length tended to be on higher side) but surprisingly no Rotaries. This was interesting as I could see only one Rotary in my entire trip. Can anybody analyze this as to why Cebu never planned for rotaries?
5. Jeepneys which are IPT have numbers based on routes
6. Driving behavior was not as good as Manila

7. Lot of visible bikes in city

8. Greenery is good and streets have been landscaped with tress and shrubs.
9. Cebu if it constructs more flyovers in future, it can compete with Delhi on having highest number of flyovers per vehicles. WE saw approx 12 flyovers in the entire day!!

The best photo of my life is above (taken in Cordova municipality of Lapo-Lapo district). I reserve my comments as I have never seen anything like this all my life and hope would never see this in future, what do you think????


  1. Little bit of geography lesson. :D

    1. Lapo-Lapo is spelled as Lapu-Lapu, and it is a city.
    2. Cordova is an another town, beside Lapu-Lapu City.

    I am glad that you paid a visit to Cebu. As a BRTS advocate, I will campaign for it.

    And for the last photo, it is actually an open-top pedestrian overpass. They municipality (town) government probably decided to remove the roof to avoid using it as a shelter for beggars.

  2. I was amused at the last photo that you posted! Hehehe.


  3. I will campaign for the BRT! Go BRT Cebu!

    Funny pic.. hehe..
    That pedestrian over pass should be in SRP. hehe. Will you cross a two-lane road using that overpass?? Good exercise though...That could serve as a place for lovers and star-gazers. hehe