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Urban planning expert casts doubt on UP monorail’s efficacy

Metro Manila has a serious traffic problem, but is an elevated monorail developed by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) the answer? At least one expert doubts it.

“Monorails are cool-looking, but there are few in the world that actually work well or turn a profit,” renowned urban planner Paulo Alcazaren told GMA News Online on Tuesday via text.

“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 [research and development], it will be [just] an academic exercise,” he stressed.

Alcazaren was referring to the P55-million Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) System prototype in the University of the Philippines-Diliman campus, running on a 500-meter track elevated 6.1 meters off. The electrically driven trains, which run on rubber wheels, have two coaches that can carry 60 passengers each.

“The cost of the trial line in UP could have been used to retrofit all IKOT jeepneys to LPG or e-jeeps for the campus. The [infrastructure’s] pylons and terminals with elevators are a huge cost to make this work,” Alcazaren noted.

“Elevated tracks also tend to blight what is underneath them. I don’t think

we want such ugly infrastructure cutting through UP’s greenery,” he added.

President Benigno S.C. Aquino personally oversaw the train’s test run on Monday.

According to news reports, he was lukewarm about the experience, describing the journey as “bumpy.”

In its defense, DOST Assistant Secretary Raymund Liboro pointed out that the system

is “still undergoing testing.” He told GMA News Online in a phone interview on Wednesday that the project will be in the testing phase until June.

Environment-friendly options

Liboro also said that the DOST is also exploring other alternatives including a road train system and the retrofitting of the Philippine National Railway.

“We are not putting our best in just one system,” the DOST official said.

Red Constantino, a board member at the nongovernmental organization Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, suggested another alternative: walking.

“We are the biggest champion of electric public transportation and yet we say that the best mode of public transportation is walking… Pay attention to sidewalks, leisurely walking,” Constantino noted in an interview GMA News Online on Wednesday.

Bicycles are another environment-friendly option, he added, as are e-buses, e-jeeps, and e-tricycles.

A rail system, on the other hand, could only support, but not completely replace, existing transport systems.

“A rail system is really good in theory or site-specific places,” the NGO official said.

“[The AGT can only] enhance whatever is present… [and] it must make sense to working Filipinos. [A good project]

will not require government subsidy,” he noted.

Alcazaren thinks monorails are even more limited. “The only places monorails have worked are in theme parks and some airports because of the nature of the buildings,” he said.

“Unless DOST has come up with super efficient motors, smoother or faster rides, or innovative hardware… There is nothing new that [the monorail] offers,” he added.

Outside NCR

DOST has not yet identified the possible locations where the new train system will be situated, said Liboro.

Apart from Metro Manila, he noted that the new mass transport system might be adopted in other emerging urban areas.

“[It] is a practical system for urbanized LGUs [local government units] dreaming of a train system,” Liboro added.

Construction of an elevated platform with a coach will cost about P100 million per kilometer, one-way.

“[This] costs lower compared to the same imported [transport] system,” he said citing that all parts of the trains are sourced locally.

By Rouchelle R. Dinglasan for GMA News.

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