Ferry service can ease commuter woes

Given that the 25-kilometer long Pasig River links the cities and municipalities of Manila, Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasig, Taguig, and Taytay, Rizal, a ferryboat system on this riparian road is a highly efficient form of transport that could ease commuter stress.   

Several ventures were made but they failed for various reasons. There once was a regular service on the river that shut down in the 1960s or ‘70s when the water became too polluted. A revival was attempted in the early ‘90s by Magsaysay Lines but they lasted only a year; the plants, garbage, and foul water foiled travel on the river.

The same problems led to the closure of the Starcraft Ferry service after three years, from 1996 to 1999.

Nautical Transport Services launched around ten boats and a water taxi in 2007. They almost closed after a year because of low passenger numbers, but an increase in oil prices forced commuters to find alternative means of transport. The popularity of the ferry surged.            

This was the ferry I used to take from Makati to Binondo in Manila and the ride was quick, pleasant, and stress-free. I could have my favorite fresh oriental lumpia in less than an hour, compared to an hour and a half in a hot, expensive taxi. 

The service was halted in 2011, partly because of losses of P94 million incurred by the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, which built the stations but received only five pesos for each ticket sold.

The ferry was relaunched almost exactly five years ago by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority with 12 stations. I wrote a column then about the ‘MMDA River Bus Ferry,’ as they called it. “The “bus ferry” was,” I wrote in March 2014, “literally, a banana-yellow mini-bus perched on a blue tug boat.” It looked unsafe.

In July 2018, the House of Representatives said they earmarked P2 billion in the General Appropriations Act for 2019 for the revival of the Pasig River ferry system. The sum is intended for the construction of 17 new stations in addition to the 12 existing. 

This is likely for the Pasig River Convergence Program of the Department of Budget and Management that will, aside from new stations, also add more boats to the ferry system. In November 2018, it was reported that DBM would create a multi-agency commission to establish and maintain the ferry system that would link the river end-to-end from Manila to Laguna de Bay by 2022.

An April 2018 news item in Bluprint online says that the new Pasig River Ferry will have “29 stations and 24 boats servicing 76,000 commuters per day or 19,836,000 per year—not yet including passenger volumes for weekend schedules, tours, or express routes. The new stations will be established along the river in the cities of Manila, Mandaluyong, Makati, Taguig, Pasig, and Marikina.”

The ferry is operating but hasn’t quite caught on again because, according to some commuters there aren’t enough stops, and, to make it worse, some of them were closed. 

A writer friend of mine who is partially disabled was using the ferry regularly and bemoaned the closure of the stop nearest her home. She said her disability makes it difficult for her to take jeepneys, buses, or the trains, which involve jumping, running, and other forms of physical exertion to take. The ferry was, for her, the best form of transportation. 

The Pasig River Convergence Program should be kicked into high gear once this year’s budget is enacted. It is a high-priority program of President Rodrigo Duterte, who expects that it will reduce traffic along Edsa and other major thoroughfares. 

Recently, the PRRC, Intramuros Administration, Municipality of Noveleta, and Cavite Superferry Transport Inc. entered into an agreement for a new ferry system that will connect Noveleta, Cavite and Intramuros, Manila.

A ferry station will be constructed in Intramuros that the IA will help develop and administer, and design along cultural heritage lines. 

The logical and common-sense solutions provided by these projects should be implemented immediately. Our long-suffering commuters deserve no less. 

Fresh lumpia, ube hopia, and other Binondo goodies, here I come! /FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

Topics: Jenny Ortuoste , ferryboat system , Starcraft Ferry , commuters , transport
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