An idea whose time has come

Published April 9, 2018, 10:00 PM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

 José Abeto  Zaide
José Abeto Zaide

By José Abeto Zaide


Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come. — Victor Hugo

Not for want of trying (because we’ve tried it before). Previous attempt to resuscitate the ferry service on Pasig was DOA (dead on arrival) because of other agencies’ disinterest.

But hope springs eternal: Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto supports the DBM-led rehabilitation and privatization plan for the Pasig River ferry. The wordsmith solon gave the ferry service a new monicker: “MRT”  (for “Maritime River Transport.” But he hopes it “will not suffer the same fate as the Metro Rail Transit.”

Recto believes Budget Secretary Benjamin Etoista Diokno is the best qualified to revive the ferry service for two reasons – the DBM secretary is guardian of the government coffers; and he is the only Cabinet member who “can see and smell the river from his office. The solution to Manila’s traffic is outside his window.”

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” because: 1) The nautical highway (“wider than the widest road”); 2) Is toll-free; 3) Has no right-of-way issues; and 4) There are no traffic jams.

We have yet to see the optimal utilization of our waterways like the Marikina River and other tributaries and esteros, (at least those, which have not been reclaimed by unauthorized housing). Watercraft may not have the same kilometer speed per hour as our buses. But they should approximate the same kph travel time or even better than our infernal bumper-to-bumper traffic at peak hours.

The DBM chief is looking at a December, 2018, soft opening of a rehabilitated and privatized ferry service, with 24 air-conditioned boats to carry 19.8 million passengers annually along 29 newly refurbished stations from Manila to Marikina. Air-conditioned – because the Pasig is not exactly the breathing fragrance of spring. (But that’s another story.)


The good news on land is that the MRT3 resumed operations on Monday, April 2, after 5-day general maintenance services done over the Holy Week.

DOTr restored 47 light rail vehicles (or 15 train sets and two spare cars during the maintenance period). The MRT3 maintenance team also completed works on the building facilities, railway tracks, and the power system of the train system.

  • By Monday, the MRT3 delivered on its promise of 15 trains. (The last time the MRT3 was able to operate 15 trains was in January 5, 2018.)
  • MRT3 fared even better this week, fielding 16 trains by Thursday, April 5. (It was in December 2017 when the riding public last experienced having as many trains operating.)
  • The MRT3 served 306,000 passengers on average this week, with Wednesday, April 4, having the most passengers (around 335,000).

According to DOTr Undersecretary for Railways Timothy John Batan, the MRT3 can serve as many as 405,000 passengers per day running 15 trains with a 3-car configuration. The target, he said, is “20 trains of 4-car configuration, which can carry 720,000 passengers per day, and eventually 25 trains with 4 cars each set, which can carry 900,000 passengers per day. However, the path and timing towards these targets will depend on the outcome of the TUV Rheinland audit of the Dalian trains,”

(The assessment by German firm TUV Rheinland of the “overweight”48 trains delivered by China-based CRRC Dalian Company Limited, due initially on March 10, has yet to be completed and is expected to be done this month.)

Furthermore, DOTr received this Wednesday the final report on the system audit of the MRT3 by JICA engineers. DOTr said rehabilitation work needed to restore the MRT3 to its original design condition would take two years and two months. Estimate project cost will be completed by mid-April. By May, a new maintenance service provider is expected.

It’s early days, and we have yet to see performance with the full traffic load of MRT passengers. The signs are good, but vamos a ver.


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