Sunday, November 18, 2018
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As I See It

Let’s use more ferryboats and trains

The Pasig River ferryboat is sailing again, thanks to Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chair Francis Tolentino. It resumed cruising up and down the Pasig last Monday, giving commuters free rides.

The ferryboat provides a fast ride to people commuting to and from the cities beside the river. Some commuters said it took them only 28 minutes to travel from Makati to Pasig—a trip that takes from one to two hours by land.

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Everything should be fine with traveling by ferryboat except for one thing: the stink of the river. It was one of the factors that had earlier driven commuters away, causing the shutdown of the service. It may do so again.

But the stink should be easy to remedy. The present ferryboat consists of the body of an old bus placed on board a barge that cruises up and down the river. Simply air-conditioning the bus ought to do the trick.

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What about the sight of floating garbage and squatters’ shanties on the riverbanks and under the bridges? Install a television set on board to distract the passengers from the passing scenery.

But things should not stop there. The national government and the local government units—not only the MMDA and the Department of Transportation and Communications—should work together to clean up the river and relocate the squatters. Most of the garbage comes from the squatters who just throw their waste out of the windows of their shanties. Just relocating the squatters should prevent much of the garbage pollution in the river.

Then more ferry stations should be built. At present, there are only four stations—in the cities of Manila, Makati, Mandaluyong and Pasig. How will the commuters get to the ferry and to their final destinations if there are only a few stations along the way?

Later the ferry service can be extended to the towns and barangays on the shores of Laguna Lake. This will make travel to the isolated towns and barangays of Rizal and Laguna easier and faster. Right now commuters have to take long, circuitous and expensive routes by land to get to these towns and barangays (some of them are not even accessible by land).

The government should subsidize the ferryboat operations in the beginning to keep fares low and encourage commuters, in the same way it is subsidizing the light rail transit operations. Fares can be increased once the ferryboat becomes popular.

Why shouldn’t it be popular once the river is cleaned up and the ugly sights removed? The trip would be not only faster but also cool and relaxing, in contrast to the cramped rides in jeepneys and buses crawling on the crowded streets of Metro Manila.

Our country is surrounded by water, and it is surprising that the government is not promoting the use of ferryboats. Rivers and esteros were our primary routes of transportation before the Americans seduced us into using—and buying from them—more land vehicles on very few roads. We have ships and roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ros) boats sailing to various islands, but we have no ferryboats to take passengers from barangay to barangay along the seashores. Travel to these isolated barangays by water would be faster, easier, and cheaper than the circuitous routes by land.

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Many maritime countries in the world make maximum use of ferryboats, including European and American cities with extensive river systems. But the Philippine government, the DOTC, and local government officials are not promoting the use of ferryboats here.

When I covered President Diosdado Macapagal’s reelection campaign, we traveled mostly by Navy ships. From the ships, we boarded rubber boats that took us to shore, then we walked to the center of the barrio where Macapagal made his campaign speeches. Thus, he was able to reach more people, many of whom had never before seen a visiting president.

There used to be a ferryboat that daily plied the route from Manila to Cavite City and back every day. We used to take this ferry in the late afternoon or early evening just to relax and enjoy the sea breeze as well as the famous Manila Bay sunset. There were ice-cold beer and snacks on board. In Cavite City, we would look around and go shopping before boarding the same ferry back to Manila. The sight of Manila’s skyline with all the lights on in the evening is something rarely enjoyed by Filipinos.

For some strange reason the ferry operation was abandoned, and now the government is going to build a very expensive light rail transit from Manila to Cavite.

Elevated light trains have been very successful in Metro Manila because they travel much faster than the buses and jeepneys below. The trouble is that they have become so popular that the government and its private partners cannot keep up with the demand. Passengers are packed worse than sardines in the trains and have to wait in long lines just to be able to go up to the platforms. Waiting in line takes much, much longer than the trip itself. The government is buying more trains, but because of red tape and losing bidders taking the government and winning bidders to court, the first of the new trains won’t be here until next year.

There is one more public transport system that we have neglected—the train and the Philippine National Railroad. In all developed countries, the train is the most efficient and cheapest means of transportation. But successive Philippine administrations have neglected the PNR. We used to have a train line from San Fernando, La Union, to Legazpi, Albay.  Not anymore. Now the PNR can go only until Quezon.

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TAGS: Department of Transportation and Communications, Ferryboat, Francis Tolentino, Makati City, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, MMDA, Pasig City, Transportation
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