It’s the time of year when people count the number of days they can go on leave from the office, count the number of parties they need to go to, the number of people to tick off a gift list. We are reminded that the reason for the season is not so much material as it is spiritual. But also in good ol’ Philippines there is nothing more concrete, nothing that reminds us about Christmas more, than heavy traffic and the daily commute made more difficult – and more dangerous – than usual.
This year, it seems this season is also about the crisis of public transport, MRT fare hikes and dangerous cab rides, cancelled and delayed flights included. And the lack of any government office that will take responsibility, the lack of caring and compassion and kindness for those of us who are unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of such bad public service.
It defies logic really. At a time when the MRT’s breaking down, the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) has announced a fare hike that will mean at least an 87 percent increase in fares, from P15 pesos for an end-to-end ride, to P28 pesos.
A fare increase is also happening across other trains. LRT 1 will get a 50 percent increase, from P20 pesos to P30 pesos for an end-to-end ride. LRT 2 will get a 67 percent increase, from P15 to P25 pesos for an end-to-end ride. (Ibon News, 21 Dec)
We are reminded that this wage hike has been long in coming. Spokesperson Sonny Coloma says that in fact the President had mentioned in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2013 that “there is a need to end the government subsidy for lower LRT/MRT fare hike.” (Interaksyon, 21 Dec)
We are reminded that all this time, government has been subsidizing “60 percent of the cost for each LRT1 and LRT2 passenger and around 75 percent for each MRT3 passenger” which is an estimated P2 billion pesos. Transport Secretary Jun Abaya says: “We must emphasize that around P10 billion will still go to subsidizing LRT and MRT passengers. But the premise of the user-pays principle is this: if what each rider pays is closer to the actual cost of his or her own trip, the P2 billion savings can be used for development projects and relief operations to benefit those who never even get to use the LRT or MRT.” (Interaksyon, 20 Dec)
And so the rational is such: the fare hike is about making commuters pay for the “real cost” of each train ride. The fare hike means providing the rest of the country with P2 billion pesos for relief operations and “development projects.”
According to IBON Foundation, the fare hike is actually about the government’s privatization program, where its “public-private partnership initiatives for LRT 1 and 2 and MRT 3” requires that it “make <these trains> more appealing to investors. Higher fares will make the light rail transportation systems more commercially profitable but at the great expense of commuters.” (21 Dec)
Not to mention to the detriment of commuters. The fare hike means making the public shoulder the cost of public transport – a public service – one that has been getting into more and more accidents, has been breaking down more often, and has been assessed as dangerous.
A social media campaign encourages the train-riding public to look at that MRT CCTV camera and throw a dirty finger its way. Make our disgust at the MRT fare hike count, and hashtag that dirty finger #PakyuMRT.
Sounds about right.
Airline services are so bad in this country that one is actually surprised when flights leave and arrive on time, and one can only be relieved that one’s airport is not the woebegone Terminal 1.
Then again, there is very little a fancy new airport can do when one is faced with flights that are moved from one hour to the next, one week to another. Especially when this is about spending Christmas in places we call home, for which we have allotted hard-earned cash and precious vacation leaves.
My friend Daryll had booked an Air Asia flight for Tacloban in early December, around which time the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) announced that it was opening the Tacloban airport to airlines other than Philippine Airlines (which had continued flying its smaller planes via the Tacloban airport during the runway repairs and rehabilitation).
On December 14, a week after she bought the ticket, she receives an advisory telling her that all “AirAsia Zest flights between Manila and Tacloban have been cancelled from December 16 to 21 2014” because the CAAP had declared the continued closure and repair works on the Tacloban aiport. Daryll rebooks the flight to December 24 – cutting it very close to Christmas, but it was her only choice – only to be told on December 19 that all AirAsia Zest flights between December 22 to 28 were also cancelled.
To be told five days before Christmas Eve that your flight home has been cancelled, is like being told that you can’t be home for Christmas really. Because flights will have been fully-booked at that point, and the few seats left will be quickly snatched up by people who might be willing to pay for what will be more expensive seats.
Seems the only ones who will truly be jolly this season are the capitalists selling airplane seats.
Who to call on matuwid na daan
It seems that for all our transport woes in this country, from derailed trains to cancelled flights, dangerous cab rides to illegal colorum buses, the public has no one to run to for help.
Because government is pretty much absolved of all responsibility when it comes to bad transport services, never mind that public transport is a public service. In fact at the heart of this holiday transport crises is the fact of private corporations running these public services, where government can wash its hands of any and all responsibility when something goes wrong.
The list of woes is a long one, and the number of victims growing. And the holidays remind us of how the public is left to deal with public transport that is not only normally inefficient like our airlines, but also now apparently dangerous like the MRT. The more painful reminder is that we’ve got no one to call for assistance, no one is responsible. Not on matuwid na daan.
“Government to hike LRT, MRT fares beginning January 4” by Darwin G. Amojelar. InterAksyon.com. 20 Dec 2014.
“LRT, MRT fare hikes questioned as DOTC issues notice : “Unreasonable”, says IBON” by IBON News. 21 Dec 2014.
“‘TAKSIL’ | MRT-LRT fare hike advisory in holidays a ‘treachery’, says Bayan; Palace defends move” by InterAksyon.com with Philippines News Agency. 21 Dec 2014.