World Bank reiterates Cebu BRT is viable

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Cebu BRT

THE World Bank has reiterated its view that it considers the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Project to be feasible, amid calls by the Department of Transportation (DoTr) to cancel the project in favor of a railway system.

In an Implementation Status & Results Report on the project disclosed on Monday, the bank said that a BRT system will minimize congestion as well as improve the overall passenger transport system in Cebu.

However, the bank said that it respects any government decision to proceed or not with the project.

“The May 15-23 joint Bank-AFD (Agence Française de Développement) mission concluded that the project as designed is technically viable and that moving forward will allow us to optimize the project design,” the document read.

“BRT projects have been successfully operated on existing narrow roads and there are technical solutions that have addressed the concerns expressed about the project. The consultants to be hired are expected to help address these concerns,” it added.

Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade has said the project will exacerbate traffic as the BRT requires a dedicated lane to be carved out of already-congested and narrow streets. He expressed a preference for a subway or elevated railway.

Cebu City Mayor Tomas R. Osmeña welcomes any proposed railway project for the future, but noted that railways will take longer because of the government approval process.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) has said that the DoTr has until the end of June to submit more “robust evidence” supporting the cancellation of the BRT project.

“The DoTr Secretary offered to visit Cebu around June 7, 2018 and discuss the technical concerns raised as part of the review of the project. The Bank team is planning for this visit and will respect the Government’s decision on the project,” the World Bank said.

The BRT project was approved by the NEDA Board in May 2014, predating the current government.

“The project is in its fourth year of implementation and is still suffering from significant delays. Before January, the main concern was the lack of decision and significant delays in the procurement of key consultants that were expected to help complete the design of the BRT system and strengthen DoTr’s capacity to successfully implement the project,” it said.

“The Technical Support Consultant, Social Management Consultants, and PPP (Public-Private Partnership) transaction adviser are still not mobilized. As a result, the procurement of civil works cannot start and this is delaying the start of the BRT operations,” the lender added.

The report also noted that the government has not renewed the contracts of 13 of the 21 staff under the Project Implementation Unit, while the contracts of the remaining eight will expire on June 30.

“The Bank recommended extending the contract of existing staff at least until September 2018 to ensure continuity in case Government decides to move forward with the project or undertake closing-out activities if the Government decides otherwise,” the World Bank said.

The bank also downgraded its rating for the project, with progress towards achieving the project’s objectives viewed as “moderately unsatisfactory” from “moderately satisfactory” previously, and the overall implementation progress at “unsatisfactory” from “moderately unsatisfactory.” The overall risk rating, meanwhile, was maintained at “high.”

The project also aims to increase the number of people using public transport services, and reduce carbon emissions.

The BRT costs $228.5 million, with the World Bank funding $116 million. So far, the bank has disbursed some $12.27 million. — Elijah Joseph C. Tubayan