Upgraded river ferry service aimed at alleviating Metro Manila road congestion

The Philippine Government has begun considering the possibility of expanding the Pasig River Ferry route to help address the long-standing problem of traffic congestion along Metropolitan Manila’s major roads.

Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto disclosed on Monday, September 5, a proposal to upgrade the existing ferry service through the expansion of the current route, the clearing of water lilies and other obstructions along the route, the purchase of additional boats and dredging equipment, and the reopening of 10 closed ferry terminals at key points along the river.

The multi-project scheme has an estimated total cost of 2.65 billion pesos (US$56.892 million), which some observers claim is much less than that of land transport improvement projects such as newer inner city trains and elevated motorways.

With the 27-kilometre Pasig River practically bisecting the Metro Manila Area, which consists of 17 cities and municipalities and with a population of around 13 million, local officials are once again studying the viability of this large inland waterway in accommodating even greater numbers of commuters, particularly those who live and work in the Metro’s major business centres of Manila, Makati, Pasig.

Worsening traffic jams in Metro Manila are estimated to cost the entire country as much as three billion pesos ($64.406 million) every day, according to a study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Observers project the daily cost to surge to double the JICA estimate within 14 years unless effective congestion reduction measures are implemented.

Different groups from both the private and public sectors have attempted to revive the Pasig River ferry service over the last 50 years, all with varying degrees of success.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the same government agency tasked with traffic management, pollution control, waste disposal, and public safety within much of Metro Manila, is the current operator of commuter ferries plying the Pasig River.

The agency’s current ferry fleet consists of 16 fibreglass boats, each with a maximum passenger capacity of 45. Approval of the expansion would entail the acquisition of at least 20 100-passenger vessels to augment and ultimately replace the 45-passenger boats already in use.

Manufacture of the chosen 100-passenger vessel design will likely be delegated to local shipbuilders to ensure faster availability, improved safety, and reduced costs.

The MMDA reported earlier this year an average daily ferry passenger count of 500—a meagre figure compared to the thousands who commute by road and rail every day.

Many observers agree the number could be higher if there were more vessels available and if the existing route had not been restricted to its present 14 ferry terminals covering a span of 15 kilometres, which is barely more than half the length of the Pasig River.

The Philippine Government, through the MMDA, will continue to provide commuter ferry services along the Pasig River until a private investor is able to take over the day-to-day operations.

Nelson E. Dela Cruz

Alex Baird

Alex Baird is the Managing Director of Baird Maritime