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08 May 2013

Is the DOST's Monorail Project only going around in circles?

Words by Leslie Sy
 
dost monorail
Metro Manila's traffic congestion has been a problem for everyone in the region for at least the last two or three decades. The major highways that connect its 16 cities turn into parking lots as vehicles come to a virtual standstill during the morning and evening rush hours. In a bid to help alleviate this problem, President Benigno Aquino III proposed in late 2010 a driverless, fully-automated guideway transit system simply known as the Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) to improve public transport and hopefully, lessen cars on the road. But is it really the answer to Metro Manila's traffic problem?
 
Construction of the AGT and its dedicated half kilometer test track began in July of 2011 inside University of the Philippines' campus in Diliman, Quezon City. Meanwhile, the first pair of coaches - each capable of holding up to 60 passengers - arrived in November of 2012. Completed earlier this year, they gave the president a ride last April 2013, but he was seemingly unimpressed about his experience, describing the journey as simply "bumpy.”
 
But why are we nitpicking at this “test project?” That's because the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) actually has plans to build a few alongside existing transport systems.
 
UP's AGT
The Philippine-built AGT prototype in the UP Diliman campus costs somewhere between P22 and 55 million, depending on who you ask. Its track is elevated 6.1 meters off the ground and when finished, will service a 6.9 km track that goes around the campus grounds. The trains are electrically driven and rolls on rubber wheels.
 
Assuming the total budget is around P38 million (average of published rates), that's roughly P7.6 million for every meter of track. That's a lot of money spent for an unproven form of transportation that may or may not work as effectively as they'd expect in terms of getting people around.
 
Even buying a few brand new buses would only cost P2 to 3.5 million each, or even (god-forbid) a dozen e-jeepneys at P650,000 each. That's still a far cry from the estimated P38 million spent on the current UP AGT project to travel a bumpy half kilometer.
 
Renowned urban planner Paulo Alcazaren also remarked, "Monorails are cool-looking, but there are few in the world that actually work well or turn a profit. DOST should be commended for their research, but unless they get an investor with serious money to put up actual factories and more R&D, it will be just an academic exercise.”
 
Going in Circles?
As much as we Filipinos like technology, we have to temper that with the use of what I'd like to call “appropriate technology” when solving a problem. Throwing high-tech solutions may not really be the best thing to do because it doesn't address the root of the problem. Not only does it cost more to implement, but could also prove to be unreliable and expensive to maintain.
 
Personally, Metro Manila doesn't need a monorail to solve the traffic congestion and public transport problems. What we need is a better road network infrastructure along with driver discipline, especially from the public transport sector. If only buses stopped in the designated bus stations, followed proper yellow lane markings, and didn't race other buses to the next station, then the system would have worked more efficiently and cause less traffic. And that's where the DOST's Road Train project comes into play.
 
The DOST has plans to convert the AGT to operate on a diesel-electric hybrid system and run on regular public roads. These so-called Road Trains are composed of five interconnected coaches and can haul up to 120 passengers. It should come out cheaper as there'd be no need to build a dedicated track. If you give it some thought, DOST's proposed Road Train project could actually work, but if and only if it replaces the LTFRB's flawed bus system.
 
Hopefully, such simple solutions can be implemented without having to go through red-tape.