The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is asking for P2.65 billion for a Metro Manila traffic solution which, in the words of Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto, “is just outside President Duterte’s Malacañang office window.”
Recto is referring to the “underused nautical highway that is the Pasig River” whose mothballed ferry service the DOTr wants to revive through a rehabilitation and refleeting program that would cost P2.65 billion.
“Sa ngayon si President Digong at iilan lang ang sumasakay ng bangka sa Pasig River upang pumunta sa kanilang opisina. Sana mas marami pa,” Recto said, referring to the barge Duterte takes from his Bahay Pangarap residence to Malacañang.
The details of the Pasig River ferry revival are in the August 24 letter of DOTr Secretary Arturo Tugade to senators, which also contains his reply to Recto’s demand that DOTr submit a wish-list of projects during the August 10 hearing on the emergency powers bill to solve the traffic crisis.
Listed under “maritime sector” are five projects worth P2.65 billion, which must be completed before commuter boats would be able to ply a 15-kilometer portion of the waterway again.
Under the plan, the DOTr will:
- Buy 20 100-passenger vessels at a cost of P400 million
- Rehabilitate 10 passenger terminals at a cost of P40 million
- Maintain the vessels and terminals at an annual cost of P10 million
- Dredge the silted river at an annual cost of P2 billion
- Maintain dredging equipment at an annual cost of P200 million
The last two, Recto said, would cover not just the 15-kilometer ferry route but the whole 27-kilometer length of the river and would include controlling the proliferation of the carpet of water lily which has impeded navigation.
Recto said the cost of reviving Pasig River as “a people mover is less compared to the expensive land-based solutions like trains and elevated expressways.”
“This nautical highway is wider than the widest road. It is toll-free. It is ready to use. It is not beset by right-of-way issues. Unlike roads, its rehabilitation will not cause traffic jams,” Recto said.
“There is no need to import trains and wait years for their delivery because the boats can be procured locally, from Cavite, Batangas, Bataan, and Cebu, where there is a thriving shipbuilding industry,” Recto said.
As it would take years before the revived ferry service could recoup investment or even break even, Recto said government should initially subsidize its operations.
“I think that the per rider subsidy would be lower than the present subsidy of P40 per MRT or LRT passenger trip,” Recto said.
Before the 10-boat Pasig River ferry service stopped operations in 2011, it served 17 stations along a 15 kilometer route from Plaza Mexico in Intramuros, Manila to Nagpayong in Pasig City.
Another spur, using the Marikina River, from the Riverbanks in Marikina City to Guadalupe in Makati City, was planned, but except for trial runs, no regular service was launched.
Recto said the revived service must reach Marikina so Rizal and Quezon City residents would have a recourse from road gridlocks.
The last ferry operator deployed twin-hulled boats which seat 150 people in air-conditioned cabins. Low passenger volume and navigational hazards like the proliferation of water lily soon led to its discontinuation.
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