IT was cavalier of Malacañang to say that only a few people were against raising the fares for Metro Manila’s rail transits. Did the Palace run a poll? Did its representatives interview MRT and LRT commuters and ask them to rate – on a scale of 1 to 10 – if paying more for a train ride was justified?
The offhand dismissal of the opposition to the fare hike shows that the government’s avowed concern for the public welfare is all smoke and mirrors. Almost a million people ride the Metro trains every day. They endure a string of inconveniences – long queues, packed coaches, stinking toilets, recurring glitches – to avoid getting stuck in a bus, taxi or jeepney in traffic-choked streets.
Now, MRT commuters are being charged as much as P28 and LRT riders P25 as new fare rates took effect on Sunday. There is more than a hint of deceit in the way the Department of Transportation and Communication announced the increase just before the start of the long Christmas holiday, denying those who are against the hike the chance to challenge it in court.
On Monday, two groups of petitioners asked the Supreme Court to order the DOTC to revoke the increase. One group, led by Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes, argued that DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya lacks the authority to order a fare increase and has usurped the functions of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board.
“There was grave abuse of discretion and utter lack of transparency on the part of the DOTC… Let’s stop Aquino’s fare hike dead in its tracks,” Reyes said.
In his own petition, former Iloilo Representative Augusto Syjuco said Abaya’s order was unconstitutional and violated the rule of due process.
“It is irregular for DOTC to grant these private concessionaires these fare hikes, even without their actually applying for a fare hike, and even without a hearing where they should have presented the bases on why they deserve a fare hike, and the extent of the fare hike increases,” Syjuco said.
Raising the fare “is wrong, unsound and unfair to your customers. When additional capitalization is needed, you sell additional new stocks or bonds,” he added.
Last Sunday, Sen. Grace Poe fired a broadside at Malacañang, calling the timing of the fare increase “wrong and unjustifiable given the poor condition and services being provided by the management of the train systems.”
The senator, who chairs the Senate public services sub-committee on transportation, said what the government did “was a clear, Judas-like betrayal.”
The MRT and LRT were given substantial budget allocations, so Senator Poe does not see any reason to raise train fares at this time.
Indeed, the 2015 General Appropriations Act earmarked P4.65 billion for train subsidy, P7.94 billion for rehabilitating the MRT 3 and P4.67 billion to cover MRT 3’s unpaid taxes.
Not only that. In the supplemental budget for 2014, the MRT and LRT received close to P2 billion for rehabilitation and capacity extension.
Perhaps Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon presented the most convincing case against the MRT-LRT fare hike. He reminded policymakers “that increases in transportation costs will quickly upset the daily budget of low to middle income families. With millions of white and blue collar workers depending on the state-subsidized train fares to cope with their daily transport expenses, train fare increases will mean a significant reduction in basic expenses, primarily on food.”
Let’s see how the Aquino administration wriggles out of that argument.