INSENSITIVE and unnecessary was how lawmakers described the government’s recent decision to raise train fares.
Sen. Grace Poe described as uncalled for the decision of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to raise the fares in the Light Rail Transit 1 and LRT 2 and Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT 3) and Malacanang’s defense of it.
Poe, who heads the Senate public services sub-committee on transportation, on Monday said she sees no reason for the fare increase since there have been no major improvements in trains systems’ services.
The MRT 3 fare increase, in particular, will benefit business and banks, an opposition lawmaker said also on Monday.
Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, a lawyer, claimed that the Aquino administration merely aims to increase earnings of the Landbank and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) out of the fare raise since these two are the bondholders of MRT 3.
Poe questioned the timing of the DOTC to impose the adjustment, noting that the officials of the agency did not even bother to inform her committee about the scheduled train fare adjustment during a panel hearing last December 17.
Poe’s committee conducted a hearing last week to look into rising incidents of train malfunctions arising from inadequate maintenance of train systems in Metro Manila, particularly MRT 3.
The committee also wants to re-examine the current public and mass transport system in the country in a bid to come up with plans on how to improve it in the next half century.
“DOTC did not even discuss this (fare increase) during our very recent hearing. They should have volunteered the information if they had strong justifiable grounds so that we could have discussed it further,” Poe said in a text message to The Manila Times.
It also did not conduct a public hearing before deciding on the fare increase, she added, citing that last public consultation conducted by the department on the fare matrix was in 2011 according to a commuters’ protection group.
“Many things have changed since the last public hearing, including the lower fuel prices. In fact other public utility vehicles were instructed to lower their fares,” the lawmaker said.
DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, recently issued Department Order No 2014-014 setting the new fares for LRT and MRT lines.
The order adopted the 11 plus 1 formula for the MRT and LRT fares wherein commuters will pay P11.00 upon entering a station, and an additional P1.00 for every kilometer.
This means MRT 3 passenger will have to pay P28.00 instead of P15.00 from North Avenue Station in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Pasay City, which stretch is approximately 17 kilometers.
Abaya said the government is expected to recover at least P2 billion from the new rates since it would lessen the 60 percent government subsidy for each passenger of MRT and LRT systems.
The DOTC and Malacanang have insisted that the fare adjustment in MRT and LRT lines is just fair for taxpayers in Visayas and Mindanao who are not using the train systems in Metro Manila but are shouldering operations of the trains.
Poe, however, disagreed with the justification made by the DOTC and Malacanang on decreasing government subsidy to the systems as she reminded them that while the trains systems are in Metro Manila, the riders of the trains are mostly wage earners who have been contributing a lot to the country’s economy.
“MRT and LRT riders are mostly wage earners whose contribution to the national economy is far reaching and impacts productivity not just in Metro Manila but all over the country especially since many companies have either their main or satellite offices here in Metro Manila,” she said.
In claiming that only businessmen and the banks will gain from the train fare adjustment, Ridon said, “The Aquino government is shameless in proceeding with this MRT 3 fare hike. It seems the periodic interest payments and increased financial viability are what motivates the Aquino government to proceed with the fare hikes instead of public service.”
Malacanang earlier said the MRT 3 fare hike is reasonable because the government has been subsidizing 75 percent of the line’s fares. Cutting back on the subsidies by P2 million, based on government figures, will enable the government to build 8,240 classrooms or provide irrigation for 11,440 hectares of farmlands.
But nobody is buying the Palace line, considering that incidents involving broken rails at the highly congested train system almost increased by six times in the last three years (from four in 2010 to 2011 to 22 in 2013 to 2014). The worse cases happened this year when 40 passengers were injured after a wayward MRT 3 train rammed through metal railings and a lamp post at Taft Avenue Station, as well as when another train went on running with one of its doors open.
“Had (President Benigno Aquino 3rd) been listening to public opinion, it is easy for these GFIs to simply cut back on their earnings for the sake of the public,” Ridon said, referring to Government Financial Institutions such as Landbank and DBP.
He warned that the fare adjustment will not improve MRT’ 3 services even if subsidies to it from the government had been provided under the proposed P2.606 trillion budget for 2015.
The DOTC allotted P4.5 billion for the line’s rehabilitation and capacity extension under the 2015 budget, an amount on top of the P957.1 million that was allotted for the same purpose under the recently-approved P22 billion supplemental budget for 2014.
“The DOTC wants us to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea: Reel from huge fare hikes or suffer from perilous trains. Yet, there is clearly no need for the public to be burdened further, as the government has already allotted billions in public funds for the rehabilitation of our train lines,” Ridon said .
“The government is fooling the Filipino people twice: First, it asked for billions of taxpayers’ money for rehabilitation efforts that have yet to see the light of day, and now, it wants to charge higher fees. It’s absurd! The government need not pass the cost of rehabilitating the country’s train lines to the public,” he added.
The fare hike will be implemented by Light Rail Transit (LRT) Authority even if the national budget already earmarked P2.8 billion for rehabilitation of LRT 1 and 2 and another P977.7 million for the same under the supplemental budget.
Valenzuela City (Metro Manila) Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian said the fare increase “will wipe out whatever benefits ordinary Filipinos were able to reap with the continuous drop in prices of gasoline and petroleum products.”
Instead of fares, the government should first improve services of the mass transport system amid frequent glitches and serious accidents, he added. LLANESCA T. PANTI