Local invention may provide rapid solution to PHL’s mass-transit woes

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In Photo: TransMilenio in Bogotá, Colombia

By Roger Pe

BELIEVE it or not, a Filipino rapid-bus transit invention has become a worldwide phenomenon by easing up traffic congestion in 136 cities in 39 countries. The same Philippine-made system, copyrighted and patented 27 years ago, helped propel their respective economies to new heights.

Transjakarta Zhongtong articulated buses at Harmoni Central Busway, Central Jakarta, Indonesia.
Transjakarta Zhongtong articulated buses at Harmoni Central Busway, Central Jakarta, Indonesia.

But why is it not happening here? Filipinos always turn their back on things Filipino until they are recognized and proven abroad.

Most recently, the US Department of Transportation announced a budget of $77 million to expand rapid-bus transit service in Eugene, Oregon. This year, this service was also introduced in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul, US, area. And Perth, Australia, followed for a faster trip and improved city-commuting experience.

According to the University of the Philippines National Center for Transportation Studies (UP NCTS), the transport situation in Metro Manila and, perhaps, other major Philippine cities can be likened to a computer that has hanged.

“It is basically poorly configured [poorly planned], lacking capacity [lack of transport infrastructure, inefficient services] and having bad sectors [lack of discipline],” a UP NCTS report said. “There is a need to reboot, reconfigure and rationalize in order to significantly and decisively improve our transport system.”

As we woefully endure long queues and mechanical breakdowns in the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) system, more woes loom on the horizon. One of these is a business-debilitating traffic that costs huge amount of money every day. Another is the foreign debt payments that continue to imprison generations of Filipinos for our LRT and MRT dues. It’s time to liberate the country from this madness.

Transfer station in Curitiba’s Linha Verde, Brazil.
Transfer station in Curitiba’s Linha Verde, Brazil.

Intel trackways and rapid transit

The Philippines came to the rescue of Xiamen, China, when the latter’s city officials, forced by heavy subsidies that its taxpayers shoulder, dismantled all rails, signaling systems and rolling coaches of an elevated LRT. They replaced it with a Philippine-made trackways system.

China had borrowed half-a-trillion dollars to develop its own bullet train. Japan then accused China of infringing on its Shinkansen technology (the DNA of high-speed railway network built more than 35 years ago). Ironically, both countries’ railways are in deep financial trouble.

As a result, major Chinese cities like Ningbo, Chengdu, Chengong, Zhenghow and others now don’t have a choice. They have to heavily subsidize the billions of US dollars spent in building the rail systems because they pass through their cities.

Intel Track or PRT (Philippine Track Rapid Transit) is an invention by Filipino Francis Yuseco. Yuseco also credits the gallant men and women engineers of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for the invention.

The invention’s efficiency was corroborated by the Departments of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and Public Works and Highways (DPWH), and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA). All agreed the Intel Track has the same operating efficiency and capacity of railways.

Ahead of Colombia

THIS country’s very own indigenous mass-transit system is way ahead of Colombia’s model, which started only in year 2000, or 11 years after Yuseco acquired the intellectual property rights for his invention.

The all-Filipino PRT technology has the capacity to design, manufacture and produce medium-speed 80-kilometer-per-hour (kph) railways, (only the steel wheels and bogies are needed to be imported). Everything else, from coaches, hybrid diesel-electric engines and signaling systems, can be sourced and manufactured locally.

Intel Track is a system without the rails and simulates the operating characteristics of railways at a fraction of railways’ costs and construction time. It does not require subsidies of railways on foreign debts eternally passed on from one generation to another.

The UP NCTS concluded that if Intel Track will be implemented in Metro Manila and other cities, it could reach traffic decongestion as high as 96.8 percent per corridor.

Yuseco has been championing for the full development of the Philippine railways system since 1989. “It has already reached a healthy level and the DOST has spent more than P120 million for its research and development,” he said. Yuseco emphasized that the government should not simply write off that amount because, as Filipinos, “we owe it to our talented engineers and scientists our full, unconditional and undivided support.”

Paying loans

YUSECO knows what he is talking about. He was an investment banker who personally experienced the devastating effects of supposedly concessional loans provided by bilateral and multilateral export credit facilities (ECFs).

“I knew for a fact that there was absolutely no way we can ever repay ECF loans used to finance major infrastructure projects [rail-based mass transits, tollways, power plants, etc.],” he said. “These ECF loans perpetually remain unpaid, as that is happening with all our three Light Rail Transit loans.”

Yuseco believes that President Duterte should protect the hapless Filipino taxpayers from the toxic onslaught of sovereign guarantees (SG).

“These SGs were liberally granted by the past administration at the behest of oligarchs who want to corner the country’s infrastructure projects,” he said. “When they generate billions of revenues, they divide the profits by declaring dividends for themselves. When they run into financial trouble, they make the poorest of the poor Filipinos answerable for these ‘financial troubles.’”

According to Yuseco, one recent example is the P7.5-billion payment made to the LRT 1 Extension project. This was paid by the Aquino administration despite the fact that not a single column of the LRT 1 extension has been built.

Awash with liquidity

THE full development of the Philippine rail system can be financed essentially in Philippine pesos, Yuseco said.

“We need to patronize our domestic financial markets as it is currently awash with liquidity in excess of P8.3 trillion,” he explained.

According to Yuseco, engineers estimate that for the price of one 11-kilometer LRT system, “we can connect the entire Metro Manila with eight elevated PRTs within a shorter construction period of two years.”

He noted that an LRT is estimated to cost P60.7 billion with a construction period of four years.

“One short-haul LRT line alone requires P7 billion in subsidies,” Yuseco said. “An entire 1,079 rail line can practically bankrupt the National Treasury.”

No more debts

YUSECO is vehemently against the exorbitant amount of building a rail system with an interest rate of 200 percent to 300 percent per annum.

“Ordinary Filipinos, especially the youth, should be made aware that these foreign loans are structured in such a way that they can never be paid.”

According to Yuseco, foreign denominated loans, peddled by their local agents and patrons deeply embedded in various government agencies, will always assert that we need not develop our own indigenous rail systems in as much as these imported rail systems are being generously offered to us.

When the Philippines’s first Belgian LRT deal was closed in 1984 by a basket of Belgian francs and US dollars, the Philippine peso to the greenback was at 16.70 to $1.

The exchange rate for the LRT 2 was 24 to $1 in 1994, Yuseco noted. The MRT 3 was financially closed at 26 to $1 in 1996. The exchange rate now is 47.22 to $1.

Our cost of borrowing for all three is approximately 200 percent per annum, making them intrinsically impossible to pay, Yuseco said.

Taxpayers cornered

INCREDULOUS as it sounds, according to Yuseco, Filipino taxpayers have been cornered to this very date to pay private shareholders of Edsa MRT to $11 million a month, payment to guarantee return on investment of 15 percent per annum.

“Over and above, Filipino taxpayers have been and are still paying $90,000 a month for their administrative costs. The $11 million does not even include the P56 billion that their shareholders are asking for the government to take over their rights to operate the Edsa MRT,” Yuseco says.

Yuseco proposed his idea to the first Aquino administration, but was rejected on the grounds that his was “unproven, merely theoretical and with only a limited systems capacity.” As there were no search engines during that year, no one in the Philippines knew that a similar system was already successfully operating in Curitiba, Brazil.

Ten years later, American Bus Association President George Wynn advised PhilTrak (the company that owned Intel Tracks) that the US was going “to reinvent” its bus service using the same features of the Philippine invention.

US Federal Transit Administrator Gordon Linton then finalized the American reinvented bus service with a catchy (but grammatically wrong) name, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

High-capacity PRTs

WITH the US taking the lead, there are now 136 cities in 39 major countries operating the Philippine-made RBT systems and long-haul capacities with amazing success. They include rich and powerful countries, such as the US, Canada, Australia, China, South Korea, Indonesia, France, Belgium, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom, among others. Their savings in subsidies amounting to billions of dollars are channeled to their more urgent needs.

Examples of long-haul PRTs are in Botswana and Cape Town, South Africa, which cover distances of 472 kilometers and 300 kilometers, respectively; Jakarta, Indonesia, which covers 108 kilometers, and Curitiba, Brazil, with a distance of 81 kilometers.

High-capacity PRTs include those in Guangzhou, China, which transports 1,000,000 million passengers daily; Jakarta, Indonesia, 1,200,000; Tehran, Iran, 1,600,000; Bogota, Colombia, 1,800,000; and Curitiba, Brazil, 2,300,000.

World-class, proudly Philippine-made

YUSECO thinks Filipinos should rally behind a Filipino invention that has helped many countries in the world improve their transportation infrastructure.

“It would be treasonous to import foreign-made railways while ignoring Filipino engineers, manufacturers, laborers and suppliers, among others,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the Filipino psyche has been tamed, abused and taken for granted over centuries of colonization that any idea or product, so long that it is Filipino, must not be good enough and hence, must be rejected,” Yuseco laments.

But even if the Filipinos rejected its own, World Bank Transport Expert Gerhard Menckhoff sought Yuseco out to learn more about the Philippines’s Intel Trackways. On August 31, 1990, he wrote a memorandum urging global governments to seriously consider the Philippine invention. The same was distributed to different officials of World Bank offices assigned in different parts of the world.

Bankrupt railways in the world

BEYOND the seemingly modern infrastructure backdrop of some first-world countries, fact is, they pay huge subsidies to pay debts to sustain and operate them.

Except for Hong Kong’s Metro, which generates income from real estate and advertising revenues, all are miserably bankrupt. The following are the annual subsidies that private citizens around the world are literally forced by their governments to subsidize year in year out for their countries’ bankrupt railway operations:

 

        COUNTRY                     SUBSIDIES (in billions)

Germany                   €17.0

France                        €13.2

Italy                              €7.2

Spain                           €5.1

UK                                 €4.5

Switzerland            €4.3

China                           $130

Japan                           $300

 

Japan’s losses in 1980 forced its government to privatize their railways, which today are still subsidized by their citizens.

Thus, even if the above-listed countries are more economically powerful than the Philippines, their citizens are still literally forced to subsidize them without letup.

This is true even their currencies are on a par with the currencies of the loans, which finance railways.

FiIipino capability at its best

THE trackways being developed now by the DOST can run on a par with the US Amtrak of 50 mph (80 kph), decent enough without sinking the Philippines into deeper financial debt, according to Yuseco.

Yuseco doesn’t believe the Philippines lacks funds and brains to develop a top-caliber trackways system. Brazen corruption, red tape and politics have put our government to international shame according to him. “The Aquino administration underspent on infrastructure. So this is a Filipino solution,” he stresses.

The Intel Track plan is to cover the entire country with focus in addressing Metro Manila’s traffic headache that has spawned productivity losses amounting to roughly P2.4 billion a day.

The single-lane Edsa RBT would be on an elevated road stretching more than 50 kilometers. About 96 buses serving a million to 3 million passengers will pass through major thoroughfares daily.

All air-conditioned buses will have a loading capacity of 200 passengers each and can transport 1,054,000 passengers a day at 15 seconds headways. Using a platoon dispatching system, it could transport 3,162,000 passengers per day. Passengers, too, wouldn’t wait no more than a minute to catch their next ride.

Features of the PRT

AN Intel Track will run on its own exclusive track that is completely controlled, therefore, completely programmable.

With a completely programmable environment, one has the absolute freedom to program all its systems operating activities.

Intel Track buses will have a length of 18 meters and width of 2.7 meters. When reconfigured, the PRT seating and standing arrangement will be the same as that of the LRT, with passenger capacity of 200 passengers per bus, simulating the operating characteristics of rail-based systems.

Other features include fixed headways, dwell times, average speed, top speed, loading and unloading stations. Doors open sideways and floor levels are on level with loading and unloading platforms. At an average speed of 60 kph, distance between each bus traveling on headways of 60 seconds is a generous distance of 1 kilometer.

Reverse migration

YUSECO said with these data, the PRT matches operating efficiency and systems capacities of any rail-based systems at a fraction of their costs.

Moreover, Intel Track coaches can be manufactured locally and they can be installed within a very short period of six to eight months. Right-of-way, a perennial problem, would be minimized since posts supporting the elevated road could be built on sidewalks, which are government property, Yuseco said.

Intel Track is also proposing to build a road using the 30-meter right-of-way of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) across 1,079 kilometers of train lines stretching across Luzon. Yuseco said this would help spur development in areas outside Manila.

Diametrically opposite are the LRT 1 and MRT 3, where taxpayers are forced to subsidize private consortium operations to at least P9 billion per line per year. The proposed operations of Intel Track on LRT 2 will net the taxpayers a positive reverse subsidy in the amount of P12.1 billion annually.

What will all these result to? Informal settlers living in crime, drug-infested squalors of our cities will migrate back to their hometowns for exponential growth in income or a 96-percent wave of reverse migration.

Phase out dysfunctional buses

YUSECO said that, if we ever wonder “why the LRT is Belgian, the LRT 2 is Japanese, while the MRT 3 is Czechoslovakian, and now the coaches for the Edsa MRT will be made in China, we shouldn’t wonder no more.”

He said the answers are in the offshore accounts of various government officials sucking the life of every poor Filipino.

He recommends that, instead of having to import the exorbitantly priced and complex LRT, which Filipinos can never pay, we should spearhead the creation of a bus consortium to serve as the country’s first indigenous mass-transit project.

He also wants the government to gradually phase out dysfunctional and unscientific operations of conventional buses and convert them into our own mass transit.

A gilded past

YUSECO graduated with a Liberal Arts Commerce degree from the De La Salle University and took up a Management Development Program at the Asian Institute of Management. He also finished one year of law at the University of the Philippines.

He started his career as systems analyst of the First Manila Management Corp. (FMMC). He said his first exposure to the rampant corruption was at the Land Transportation Office, when 10- to 15-year-old buses already condemned in other countries after mere cosmetic or superficial reconditioning in the country were being allowed to be registered as only one or two years old.

Yuseco later joined the Bancom Development Bank as a money market trader, the Philippine American Investment Corp. as head trader and assistant treasurer, then treasurer. Later, he became one of the partners and executive director of the Philippine Investments Systems Organization, one of two conduit lending institutions in the Philippines for multilateral financial institutions, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

As an investment banker, Yuseco became director and vice president of the Money Market Association of the Philippines. He led the capital market development committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines. He also has written published articles in international finance both here and abroad.

Yuseco is also a member of the Filipino Inventors Society, with three inventions to his name. One of these is the Karbrella, a portable car umbrella, and the Water Weeder, a garden device for extracting garden weeds. The third invention credited to him is the Philippine track passenger, agri and cargo rapid transit system, for which he was awarded a certificate for inventive excellence in solving the country’s horrendous transport and traffic problems.

Image credits: flickr.com/people/jlascar, CC BY-SA 2.0, Gunawan Kartapranata – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Mariordo Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz, CC BY-SA 3.0

14 COMMENTS

  1. Who.paid for this article? Or who was paid? Would the fact the clark-manila rail line is raised now and theres promtion in here for rail teacks have any relation?I find a lot of articles which are paid promotiins especially in rappler. No one ever talks about rail trams and also making a MRT that actually works and arent used as cattle carts and poorly funded, maintained and managed like Manilas is. I find filipinos are the opposite of taking up something thats gotten famous overseas. Quite the opposite. Theres a lot of resistance and keeping of the status quo if something eg food especially is not “filipino style”. You get that response more in the province areas.

  2. The article is full of falsehoods and innuendoes! The LRT system in China has NOT been dismantled! The awkward and uncomfortable bus system described was NOT invented in the Philippines, but in Brazil!
    Any type of bus transport is grossly uncomfortable, high polluting, and similar to riding in a working washing machine. Rail transport is smooth, safe, efficient and comfortable. Bus transport is associated with the less educated, whereas rail transport is associated with the better educated. Rail can transport far higher volumes of people, with virtually NO pollution.

  3. First time for me to see a Business Mirror article online. What a sham article. And no ‘author’ but just the tabloid name.. How’s that for a first look?

  4. Bus Rapid Transit started in Curitiba, Brazil. The Philippine invention is to claim the Pinay roots of BRT. I expected a more serious paper from the Business Mirror.

  5. Businessmirror credibility has gone down lately these days. I remember they posted an article “Philippines 11th fastest in the world” Seriously BusinessMirror?

  6. I remember first reading about BRT in the Bulletin Today (old name of Manila Bulletin) in the 70’s. It was being planned by then Pres. Marcos.

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