SubwaySeptember 11, 2017
DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco
The Philippine Star | September 11, 2017
At last, a subway for us… the commuter line, not the sandwich. NEDA has finally approved the first phase of the subway project for Metro Manila. Compared with the Roxas-Abaya era at the transport department, at least Art Tugade is able to get faster approval of big projects by NEDA.
I think Sec. Tugade and the Duterte NEDA should be commended for not stretching the decision process for vital transport projects. It took them less time to decide on the country’s most expensive mass transit system than it took the Roxas-Abaya DOTC to decide on the four-kilometer LRT2 extension.
I also like it that the approved project added a spur line to NAIA, a logical move suggested by Sec. Tugade. In fact, the original alignment should have led to NAIA rather than the old FTI area that is now being developed by a leading property conglomerate.
Indeed, I was wondering about the logic of the original alignment that starts in the Trinoma area to EDSA then to C-5, passing through Market Market/BGC and to the FTI area, now called Arca South. Connect the dots to guess who the developer of all these properties is. Looks like one of their former executives, who briefly served as transport undersecretary, did his job well.
Given the pretty large outlay for the subway project, government is expected to make sure its alignment will serve the most number of people. This ambitious project will now cost P355.6 billion (roughly $7 billion), up from the original cost assumption of P227 billion (roughly $4.4 billion).
The project will be funded by Japan at an interest rate of 0.10 percent per year, payable in 40 years, with a grace period of 12 years. Japan must truly love us more than China whose ODA funding for other transport projects carries an interest rate of at least three percent.
Because we still have to pay back the loan, government must make sure we get maximum benefit. This is why the original alignment is questionable. It only yields a rather low projected ridership of 370,000 a day compared to over a million in an EDSA alignment. As such, it will be very difficult to have a fare that, given political realities, will be sufficient to operate and maintain it.
Our country’s first subway line must serve the densest traffic corridor which is the stretch of EDSA from North Avenue to Taft/Baclaran. This corridor can support mass transit with a capacity up to 1.2 million because it goes through several high-density business and residential districts.
Terminating the subway line in NAIA will also provide a public transport alternative to airline passengers. LTFRB has failed to put adequate public transport in our gateway airport. This failure leaves airline passengers at the tender mercies of the criminal transport syndicates working in cahoots with some corrupt airport officials.
In any case, the old FTI area will already be served by the Taguig central bus terminal and by the PNR south commuter train line which the Edsa subway line can intersect to enable passengers to transfer lines. Maybe costs can be saved if the plan for a C5 alignment to terminate the subway line in FTI is totally scrapped in favor of an EDSA alignment that terminates at NAIA.
I really find it difficult to understand why the subway alignment as originally proposed will not serve the heavily populated Ortigas-Greenhills-ShawCrossing-Boni area and instead move east before Ortigas towards C-5. I am personally benefited by the C5 alignment, but it is not the best for this project.
There will be some right of way issues in the C5 alignment and that could delay completion of the project. No such problem is expected for an EDSA alignment as it will run under the wide public thoroughfare without encroaching on private subterranean rights.
With the subway and the rehabilitated MRT3 working together, there will be little excuse to use private transport. That will make it possible to impose tolls similar to the congestion tolls imposed in cities like Singapore and London.
Most important, the potential passenger load of a subway running under EDSA is easily double that of the C5 alignment. That alone, will vastly improve the viability of the project and make lower fares and/or lower subsidies possible.
And since it is a totally government project, we can implement lessons learned from the MRT3 contract regarding the utilization of commercial property income to help reduce subsidy required from government.
In MRT3, the original partners dictated where the stations will be, and mostly near their malls. They also had monopoly on advertising revenues from billboards within the system. We can do better than that by making these decisions in the public interest, not the commercial interest of a few conglomerates.
Some friends in the business community have also suggested that maybe government should totally use the Japan loan to build the tunnels not just for this first subway but for a few more lines. We also need, for example, an East-West line to augment the service now provided by LRT2.
If this strategy is accepted, the government can then implement a hybrid PPP that will let the private sector fund and build everything else needed from the rails to the procurement and maintenance of trains and running the system daily. This approach will enable us to have two or more subway systems instead of just one.
But what impressed me at this stage is the determination of the administration to get this big project started. I do not believe they can complete the project before the end of the President’s term. Its completion will likely be delayed by a few years, beyond the term of the administration, but at least they got it started.
To me, the fact that they did not just study the project to death is progress enough. Mar Roxas could have done this when he was DOTC secretary, but he didn’t. He didn’t have enough guts, imagination, nor empathy for the millions of commuters burdened by inadequate mass transport and the traffic jams.
Secretary Art Tugade, NEDA Secretary Ernie Pernia, Finance Sec. Sonny Dominguez and Budget Secretary Ben Diokno all deserve our congratulations for taking this first step. That first step is always the most difficult.
Let us hope they will be as decisive with other transport infra projects still waiting to be done. We need officials who can get sh-t done!