THE Transportation department said on Monday that the government will conduct a feasibility study to evaluate a privatization proposal put forward by the business community for the bus system plying Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA).

“We have requested the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Center to set aside funds for the feasibility study,” Transportation Secretary Jaime J. Bautista said on the sidelines of the Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines’ Economic Forum 2022.

At the forum, Mr. Bautista said the department has also received from Swedish Ambassador to the Philippines Annika Thunborg an offer of Swedish government help to study improvements to the busway project.

“Of course, we gratefully accepted her offer,” Mr. Bautista said.

On Oct. 6, 28 private groups urged the government to privatize the busway to relieve commuters of their difficulties.

“It is high time that the government and the private sector join hands to provide the critical components that are needed to complete the busway system — and finally put an end to the daily scenario in which thousands of commuters wait in long queues in overcrowded stations while enduring unnecessary pains and hardships,” the groups said in a joint statement.

Among the groups that called for the busway’s privatization were American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Chinese Filipino Business Club, Filipino CEO Circle, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, and Management Association of the Philippines. 

“Our commuters and our country deserve a busway system that is at par with comparable systems in other countries. We note that the Jakarta Busway has the longest system in the world and the Guangzhou System is recognized as the gold standard,” they said.

Separately, Mr. Bautista said the department expects to finalize negotiations for a Chinese loan funding the Calamba-Bicol, Clark-Subic, and Mindanao railway projects by early next year.

“We really want to make it as early as possible para magawa kaagad (to hasten construction),” he said, adding that the expected timeline for a deal is the first quarter of 2023.

The Calamba to Bicol project is a 380-kilometer railway from Banlic, Calamba, Laguna, to Daraga, Albay, while the Subic-Clark railway is a 71.13-kilometer railway consisting of a 64.19-kilometer main line connecting Subic Bay Freeport Zone and Clark Freeport Zone and a 6.94-kilometer link to the Subic Bay Port’s New Container Terminal.

The Mindanao railway project phase 1 runs from the Tagum Station and depot in Davao del Norte to Digos City, Davao del Sur. It will have stations in Carmen, Panabo, Santa Cruz, and three in Davao City, including a sub-depot.

“What we can do for now is award the contract packages,” Mr. Bautista said.

The government recently canceled its loan applications for the three projects because the Chinese government was “unresponsive,” Transportation Undersecretary Cesar B. Chavez said in July. — Arjay L. Balinbin