Iloilo government to build BRT system that will kill traditional jeepneys

This article is available in Pilipino

Iloilo City mayor Jerry Treñas announced this June 19 that his government is “studying” the “unsolicited proposal” of First Balfour Inc for the funding and operation of the bus-rapid transit (BRT) system in the city. This follows the city’s implementation of the forced franchise consolidation of traditional jeepneys, which killed the livelihood of small drivers and operators, and the establishment of cooperatives dominated by imported minibus companies. Last week, the city imposed the “enhanced” Local Public Transport Route Plan, which reduced the routes of traditional jeepneys entering the city by 60%.

The First Balfour’s “unsolicited proposal” will initially cover the Diversion Road, and routes in Jaro and Arevalo districts with initial fleet of 16 e-buses per route. The entire project is estimated to cost ₱2.4 billion, including the repair of roads and the laying of the necessary infrastructure (waiting sheds, automatic collection and others) for the BRT system’s city operations. The entire project will be subsumbed in PPP (Public-Private Partnership) using public funds for its required infrastructure.

Currently, First Balfour operates several e-buses that shuttle passengers within the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminals 3 and 4. The company imports its e-buses entirely from BYD (Build Your Dreams), a Chinese company.

One of the proponets for the deployment of the BRT system in Iloilo City and other “first towns” is the Swedish government and companies. In June 2023, the Metro Iloilo-Guimaras Economic Development Council, the National Economic Development Authority, and the Department of Transportation signed an agreement that Swedish companies will conduct a “feasibility study” for the BRT system not only in the city, but also in Cabatuan, Leganes, Oton, San Miguel, Santa Barbara, and Zarraga. The study was funded by a $1 billion grant from Swedfund, the Swedish government’s financial institution.

The local government of Iloilo, Swedish businesses, and First Balfour are championing the BRT system in the guise of “environmental sustainability.” As with the BRT systems that are being pushed in Davao, Cebu and other big cities, it is being promoted as the deployment of a “low-carbon urban transport system.” This is a big joke because almost all the electricity used in Panay (91.9%) comes from coal-fired (58.2%) and diesel/bunker-fired (33.7%) plants, which emit gases that cause global warming and climate change the most.

First Balfour is a construction company owned by the Lopez family, one of the largest bourgeois compradors in the Philippines, and one of the country’s three largest electricity producers. BYD is currently the largest supplier of electric vehicles in the country. Among its clients are Meralco and Ayala Corporation, companies that are actively pushing for the jeepney phaseout and fake modernization.

In August 2022, BYD entered into a partnership with Hedin Electric Mobility, a Swedish company, which stands as the main distributor of its e-vehicles in Europe.

AB: Iloilo government to build BRT system that will kill traditional jeepneys