LAST Sunday, trash thrown from a pedestrian walkway snagged on the power cable of the MRT Line 3, forcing southbound trains to a stop. It took an hour for maintenance crews to remove the obstacle and get the trains running again.
If it’s not trash fouling up a cable, it’s rotting rails that need replacement or doors that do not close properly. Hardly a week goes by that a glitch does not disrupt the MRT’s operation, and leave hundreds of riders in the lurch.
Many cities abroad take pride in their metro train systems. Last year, readers of CNN Travel picked London’s Underground or The Tube as one of the greatest metro systems in the world, praising it as a cheap, reliable and convenient mode of transportation. They were also impressed by the train service in Hong Kong, Seoul, New York, Singapore, Tokyo and Guangzhou.
If there’s a listing of the world’s worst city commuter trains, our MRT will without doubt merit a high ranking. And why not? It does not run on time. An MRT train is supposed to arrive at a station every three minutes. The actual interval time, however, ranges from five minutes to as long as 10 minutes. Considering that the line has 11 stations between North Ave. in Quezon City and Taft Ave. in Pasay City, that could translate into a 65-minute journey (if you’re lucky) or a 90-minute passage. So much for speed.
Riding the MRT is not exactly a comfortable experience, unless you relish being squeezed into the impossibly tight confines of a packed train coach.
Convenience is not MRT’s strong point, either. Queues at the stations during rush hour stretch down to the street below. More than half of the escalators don’t work, the toilets stink and the air-conditioning in some of the coaches is unreliable.
More troubling are the incidents that could be traced to sheer incompetence. In one of the most glaring instances, a train was allowed to proceed on its trip despite faulty doors failing to close.
To top it all, safety is a festering issue with the MRT. Last August, an out-of-control train overshot the MRT’s Taft station, rammed a restraining barrier and almost ended up in the street. It was a miracle that no one was killed, although 35 people were wounded, none of them critically. The incident, however, highlighted the vulnerability of the train system to accidents that were easily preventable.
The management of the MRT does not deny that the train system, which went into service in December 1999, is far from being fault-free, but it is quick to dodge the blame. It said improvements to the MRT are long overdue, but funding is a problem. This is the line MRT officials employ in justifying their request to reduce state subsidy for the train system.
An MRT commuter pays P15 for a ride from Taft to North Ave. It the government subsidy is taken away, the fare would balloon to almost P54. That’s far more expensive than an air-con bus ride.
Removing the subsidy altogether is not option for now. What the government is looking at is reducing the subsidy, a move that would effectively raise the fare.
That’s bad news for the more than 500,000 commuters who ride the MRT every day. The government needs to first convince them that the fare hike will translate to better service, that shelling out a few centavos more will be worth it.
Selling a fare increase to MRT commuters who go through an ordeal everyday by taking the train will not be easy.