THE Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) is fast-tracking the Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3) upgrade and will pursue the railway buyout separately.
“The modernization and upgrading of MRT-3 is critical in order to improve our services to passengers in terms of both safety and convenience,” DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said in a statement.
“Most of these projects will be completed in 2015 to 2016 under current timelines, which is why we are already pursuing them separately from the buyout,” Abaya said.
“We need to work together in the interest of MRT-3 riders. Government is still finalizing the details of its buyout plan, but we will bring this to the private owner as soon as it is completed. The buyout will pave the way for our long-term plans, which is intended to deliver not only a decent MRT-3 system to the public, but one that we can look forward to taking,” the official added.
Earlier this month, the DOTC formed a transition team composed of engineers and staff of the MRT-3 Office and the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) to work with and closely monitor regular maintenance works on the system.
The move is meant to give government a direct role in ensuring that safety requirements are met and protocols are properly followed on a daily basis in the interest of the riding public.
At the same time, the DOTC and MRT-3 Office are either procuring or implementing improvement projects to ensure medium- to long-term safety, reliability, and convenience of the transit line.
Major upgrades that are already underway are the addition of 48 brand-new train cars and the automation of the railway ticketing system.
The new train cars are the crucial solution to long lines, as they will increase passenger capacity by 66 percent. This means that the current three-car configuration will be made into four-car sets, and they will arrive at 2.5-minute intervals instead of the current three minutes.
The prototype unit of the new train cars will be tested on the system by August 2015, and once approved, three to four new units will be delivered every month thereafter. While complete delivery of the 48 train cars will be accomplished in December 2016, each monthly delivery will already afford partial relief to riders, the DOTC said.
Meanwhile, the Automatic Fare Collection System (AFCS) project is also underway, with partial operations at the MRT-3 and Light Rail Transit Lines 1 and 2 (LRT-1 and LRT-2) starting in July 2015. This contactless or tap-and-go ticketing scheme, which will cut queuing time and speed up line transfers, will be fully operational by September 2015, the department said.
Equity value buyout
Government’s long-term plan for the MRT-3 is to implement an equity value buy-out (EVBO) of the system’s private sector-owner Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTC) pursuant to the Build-Lease-Transfer (BLT) Concession Agreement.
Under Executive Order No. 167 s. 2013, the DOTC and the Department of Finance (DOF) are tasked to implement the EVBO, to put an end to the ongoing arbitration case in Singapore between the DOTC and the MRTC. This will also terminate the Concession Agreement, end government’s obligation to pay billions of pesos in equity rental payments to MRTC annually, and transfer ownership over the MRT-3 to government.
The DOTC is seeking a P53-billion appropriation in the 2015 budget for the EVBO.
Once the buyout is complete, the transport agency may then bid out an operations and maintenance (O&M) contract for the line, thereby tapping private sector efficiency and customer service orientation for operational needs, while retaining regulatory functions for passenger protection with government.