It is now generally accepted that the traffic problem in Metro Manila is bound to get worse before it gets better. It is now near the end of October and right after November 1, the holiday spirit begins to pick up with lanterns appearing in city streets and in homes, malls begin announcing sales, and traffic builds up as people join in more activities in schools, offices, and neighborhoods.
Two-hour trips in the morning and evening rush hours have become the new normal. Long before presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo advised commuters to wake up early to get to their offices in time, they had been doing just that. It seems they do not expect any real improvement in traffic anytime soon.
There was an effort by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to ban provincial buses but then the passengers still needed to take other vehicles to take them to their various destinations in the city. New roads are being built and new routes are being drawn up. But these are not likely to be ready before the year ends.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said there is one project that can be carried out quickly, which might help ease the Metro traffic situation. While we are all waiting for the completion of the elevated highways, the expansion of the capacities of the light rail systems, and the expansion of the SLEX Skyway, he said, why not carry out the long-postponed expanded Pasig River Ferry system?
There was a river ferry service as early as the 1960s, but low passenger turnout, due partly to river pollution problems, forced the early operators to shut down. The present ferry service is said to have changed its trip schedules several times, which could explain why it has not drawn more customers.
Last April 3, 2018, a committee led by then Secretary Benjamin Diokno of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) drew up a plan for a Pasig River Convergence Program that would revive the the ferry system as an alternative form of transportation in Metro Manila. It would acquire a new fleet of 24 air-conditioned riverboats to travel up and down the Pasig River from Manila Bay to Laguna de Bay, with 12 stations to be expanded to 29 in four years.
A cabinet meeting convened by President Duterte approved the plan. Operational guidelines would be drawn up by a committee that included officials of the DBM, the MMDA, the Department of Transportation, the National Economic and Development Authority, the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, and the Laguna Lake Development Authority.
That was on April 3, 2018, 18 months ago. But nothing more was heard about it after that initial report of its approval in the cabinet meeting.
While the public is waiting for the big projects to be completed, Senator Angara said last Sunday, the government should consider carrying out the Pasig river ferry project. It is is easier and faster to implement, he said, as there is already a feasibility plan for the acquisition of new boats and refurbishing of existing stations.
If the ferry system can be made to operate reliably and consistently, it will improve ridership, which was the problem faced by the previous ferry operators, he said. Passengers only need to know that the ferry will arrive on time and they will get to their destinations on schedule, he said.