MAPping the FutureColumn in INQUIRER
Gold-rated EDSA BRT: Goodbye to commutergeddonwritten by Mr. Eddie Yap - November 14, 2022
A stunning 62% of Filipinos aspire to own a car, the survey for NEDA’s Ambisyon 2040 revealed. If the wish is realized, streets will be overwhelmed and traffic gridlock will be the norm, aside from worsening air pollution. There is little doubt that the great difficulty experienced by commuters in their daily commute, often in humiliating conditions, during the past many decades influenced this mindset, further fostered by the car-centric policy of urban managers where road space is prioritized for cars, instead of people mobility through mass transit as called for in the National Transport Policy of 2017.
While Metro Manila (MM) and other urbanized cities in the country wallowed in daily traffic congestion and inefficient public transport up to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, great strides in urban bus transit were being made abroad.
Runcorn busway, a game changer
As early as 1971, the busway was introduced in Runcorn, England, with a guided corridor dedicated for public buses. Protection against intrusion by other vehicles was provided by physical elements delineating its edges for self-governing control. Another feature is the alignment of the busway away from traffic conflict lanes at the curb side where the path of buses is obstructed by parked vehicles or by cars turning to and from driveways and side streets. The novel busway achieved quantum improvement in bus service with greater efficiency, faster travel time and higher passenger throughput that became a game changer in urban mass transit. A British group continues to promote the development of busways.
Curitiba BRT: trailblazer
In 1974, the Runcorn busway evolved into a full bus rapid transit, or BRT, in Curitiba, Brazil, with enhancements that further improved efficiency to become the most cost-effective urban mass transit system in lieu of rail. The features of this system became the model of the BRT. The TransMileno BRT in Bogota, Columbia was introduced in 2000 with scaled-up capacity to meet demand of its more populous city. Other BRTs followed throughout the world. Latest data show 182 cities have BRTs with a total length of 5,539 km carrying 31.6 million passengers daily.
On June 1, 2020, or half a century after Runcorn, the first busway dedicated for bus service running on a “Carousel” line was finally introduced along the median of EDSA in response to private sector advocacy. This busway was offered as a solution to the inefficient yellow bus lanes at the curb side. This busway meets the basic features of the Runcorn busway, but not of a BRT. After two years of pilot testing, it is evident that the EDSA busway has proven its worth with faster travel time; daily average ridership of 350,000 with just 550 buses compared to the previous 3,500 buses and minimal capital cost. Finally, buses no longer contribute to traffic congestion on EDSA. But this busway is a work-in-progress taking too long to complete and its stations being overwhelmed by resurgent passenger demand.
Privatization of EDSA busway
The rationale for privatization of the EDSA busway and its development into a full BRT is simple, yet compelling. The impressive performance of the busway, notwithstanding the many handicaps and gross under-investment, provides the impetus for its full development. EDSA has the highest commuter density in MM and a high-capacity busway is essential to supplement the MRT3 line, while serving as backup when train service is disrupted. However, the government faces budgetary constraints and the procurement process is tedious, when time is of the essence. Public-private partnership is the logical option. In the hands of a private concessionaire, the uncompleted busway can be quickly completed and optimized by upgrading it to BRT standards conformably with the laudable policy direction provided by transportation secretary Jaime Bautista, and as clamored by the private sector. The timing for private participation could not be better as the implementing rules of the amended Build Operate Transfer Law have been released.
Global BRT Institute
An important factor for the standardized development and operation of BRTs is the existence of the Institute for Transportation Development Policy (ITDP), a global NGO based in New York City. A technical committee composed of globally renowned experts in BRT develops the BRT Standard and ensures its credibility and relevance through periodic review and revision.
Importance of BRT standard
The BRT standard provides a common definition of bus rapid transit and ensures that such systems more uniformly deliver world-class passenger experiences, significant economic benefits, and positive environmental impacts. The BRT standard provides a framework for system designers and decision makers for sustainable bus transport systems. The standard consists of 6 different standards each with a set of elements and scores. These can conveniently and credibly provide the bases for the terms of reference (TOR) in the bidding of the busway system concession and its contract terms, as well as form part of the performance metrics for an objective basis to evaluate proponent’s proposal and compliance thereof.
BRTs are scored and rated against the 6 standards with aggregate score of 100 points. Basic BRT design standard has 38 total points, bus service planning standard has 19 points, infrastructure has 13 points, stations design has 10 points, communications has 5 points, and access and integration has 15 points. Each of these 6 standards has specified elements, each with a corresponding score. For example, the 38-point Basic BRT standard has five elements, i.e., dedicated right-of-way with 8 points, busway alignment with 8 points, off-board fare collection with 8 points, intersection treatment with 7 points and platform level boarding with 7 points. The other 5 standards similarly have elements with their corresponding points.
Hierarchy of BRT best practice
BRTs worldwide are certified with ratings ranging from Basic, Bronze, Silver and Gold. A BRT corridor with a minimum length of 3 kms must garner 85 to 100 points of the standard to deserve gold rating attesting to its having attained the highest operational performance and efficiency, while providing service of high quality. Some examples are the Curitiba Linea Verde in Brazil, three lines of the TransMilenio Bogota BRT and Guangzhou BRT in Guangdong, China. A corridor with silver rating must have 70 to 84 points. Examples are Xiamen in Fukien and Koridor 1 of TransJakarta. Bronze rating requires 56 to 69 points. A Basic BRT must have 18 to 55 points. The EDSA busway has not been rated and is not a BRT.
Gold standard EDSA BRT
EDSA is ideal for a BRT and 85 minimum points for gold rating is attainable. EDSA is the top of the ten densest traffic corridors in MM and has the features of an expressway as major intersections have been provided with flyovers. The MRT3 train line runs on the median and the busway alignment is adjacent to it, while its starboard edge is defined with physical barriers, thereby providing self-governing control. Some physical obstacles exist but are not insurmountable.
Under a private concessionaire, MM may soon have a gold-rated BRT in EDSA for the convenience of commuters and the pride of our country for finally joining the rest of the modern world with a BRT. Motorists may even be convinced to take the bus and this will help decongest EDSA. Indeed, a new age in bus transit is dawning on EDSA.
(The author is Chair of the Infrastructure Committee of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) who advocated the EDSA busway on August 26, 2015 as replacement for the yellow bus lanes as the then chair of MAP Traffic, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. This article is aligned with the public transportation policy of the MAP. Feedback via <email@example.com> and <firstname.lastname@example.org>).