Metro Manila’s long suffering rail riders

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It’s a typical scene every day. Long lines of people at the foot of the stations of Metro Manila’s three city rail systems during rush hours, and all rail cars are always filled like cans of sardines.

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The worsening traffic situation on major roads makes the rail systems an attractive alternative to travel around. Too bad the Aquino administration has so far failed to make the necessary expansion to accommodate an ever-increasing number of commuters.

The rail riding public bear the difficulty silently, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy with the inertia.

President Benigno Aquino 3rd announced more than two years ago his administration would undertake private-public sector partnerships (PPP) for vital infrastructure projects. A lot of press releases and public announcements have been issued in support of that intention, especially on the privatization that is supposed to lead to the improvement of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3 on EDSA, the extension of the Marcos-era Light Rail Transit 1 to Cavite, and the LRT-2 to Cogeo in Antipolo.

Nothing has ever come out of it.

To their credit Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo constructed MRT 3, built LRT-2, and extended LRT-1, respectively. Don’t forget too it was former strongman Ferdinand Marcos who built LRT-1, which is Southeast Asia’s first rail system.

The PPP is turning out to be a dud. More than three years has passed since President Aquino took office, but the scheme has yet to attract proposals for rail projects.

Bureaucratic red tape is to blame for the delay. Things took a turn for the worse when a high-ranking official of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) was alleged to have demanded a kickback in the supply of rail cars. That makes foreign firms shy away from taking part in local infrastructure projects.

President Aquino’s term is ending in 2016. We’re beginning to doubt that his administration can get a single rail project off the ground before he steps down. It is very likely that he and his mother Corazon Aquino will be the only two presidents after Marcos who never had any rail project completed.

This is inexcusable. The blueprint for Metro Manila’s rail system has long been in place, and an integrated and modernized rail system is needed more than ever today. The Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo administrations simply used that blueprint to extend or expand the system. Is it too hard for the current administration to follow their lead?

By the way, whatever happened to the government’s planned buyout of the MRT-3?

Also, didn’t the DOTC award a magnetic card contract to MRT-3 recently? At least riders of the MRT-3 won’t encounter glitches as they board the rail system, especially during rush hours. But one cannot call that a real accomplishment.

Come to think of it. DILG Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd headed the DOTC in the early part of the Aquino administration. We have yet to hear what, if any, did he do to advance the rail projects during his watch. Current DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya is a disappointment as well. He couldn’t push the upgrading, rehabilitation or modernization of the system fast enough.

As suggested earlier the inability of the Aquino administration to improve, modernize or expand the three rail systems could be blamed on its failure to attract capable foreign firms with expertise and the financial capability to invest in this mode of public transport.

The allegations of attempted shakedown in the supply or MRT-3 rails cars did not help the situation. Neither did the cancellation of a Belgian firm’s multi-billion dollar Laguna Lake dredging project. The difficulties encountered by these two projects contribute to the perception that the Philippines is not an ideal country for long-term investment.

Is the administration doing anything to win back foreign investors’ confidence? If there is no such program, it had better adopt one and do a good job at it. Commuters have suffered long enough.

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