Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya further earned the ire of lawmakers on Thursday when he failed to attend a congressional inquiry into fare increases in Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT 3) and Light Rail Transit 1 and LRT 2.
Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Undersecretary Jose Lotilla said Abaya could not make it to the hearing because the DOTC chief was involved in preparations for the visit next week of Pope Francis.
Abaya’s explanation did not pacify some of the lawmakers.
House Deputy Minority Leader Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna and Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza noted that Abaya should defend the fare hikes before Congress.
“This hearing has been announced ahead of time . . . more than a week ago even. Do they really have to set the meeting for the papal visit today [that]coincides with this hearing?
This is a major policy issue, he has been all over the media defending [these fare adjustments]and yet he has no time for Congress?” Colmenares fumed.
Under the new fare matrix for the MRT 3 line, which stretches from North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Pasay City, the cost of end-to-end trips increased to P28 from P15.
“We ask [House Transportation] Committee Chairman Cesar Sarmiento [of Catanduanes]to compel Secretary Abaya to appear here. He is the only one who can shed light on this and defend it in Congress the same way that he has been vigorously defending it all over the media,” Atienza said.
He noted that the DOTC secretary is dodging lawmakers since he had been repeatedly slammed by various groups for issuing Executive Order 603, which increased the train
The fare raises had been questioned at the Supreme Court.
“The plight of our commuters is pitiful. It’s like they are being punished for no reason,” Atienza said.
Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Cavite said he wants the DOTC to explain where it will spend the additional revenue from the train fare increases.
“I am respectfully moving Mr. Chairman that we require the DOTC officials to submit in writing, item by item, how they shall intend to spend this additional revenue, and so that we can compare it with the budget allocation provided to them,” Barzaga added.
In the same hearing, Colmenares questioned the need for the fare adjustments and argued that Congress has already allotted enough funds for repair and rehabilitation of coaches and rail tracks.
DOTC Undersecretary Rene Limcaoco said the fare adjustments will result in improved train system and better services.
“The fare hikes [are]in order to make sure that when the funds are needed to rehabilitate and . . . improve the trains, it can be done,” Limcaoco explained.
“That will mean the elevators will be working, escalators will be working, the trains will be better maintained and will be working so that we can maintain the trains every two and a half to three minutes. That means the people will be experiencing more reliable train service,” he said.
But improvements will not be immediate.
Limcaoco also explained that repairs will take time and rail improvements “will be seen in the third and fourth quarter of 2015, more on 2016.”
Renato San Juan, MRT 3 officer-in-charge, said the government will collect an additional P2.06 billion from the fare increases.
He added that, on average, the fare raise in LRT 1 is P4.70 per passenger.
For LRT 2, the average increase is P5.60 and for MRT 3, P7.92.