Some lawmakers have prodded the House leadership to call a special session even during the Christmas break to inquire if the fare increase for the Light Rail Transit (LRT) 1 and 2 and Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT 3) announced on Saturday by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) is justified.
The DOTC said the fare increase will take effect on January 4, 2015.
Bayan Muna party-list Representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate and Sen. Francis Escudero believe that there is no reason to raise fares in the three rail lines.
“We are not against development or the extension of the rail systems but we are against passing government irresponsibility and corporate greed, not to mention corrupt practices, onto hapless commuters. We are also against sweetheart deals that to put it in the vernacular ‘ay ginigisa tayo sa sarili nating mantika,’ [we are being fried on our own lard]” Colmenares, senior deputy minority leader, said.
“As it is, we are calling on the House leadership to call for a special session for this or for the transportation committee to hold hearings for HR 111 even during the Christmas break because the fare increase will be implemented as early as the first Monday of January,” he added.
He was referring to House Resolution 111 filed early this year by Bayan Muna that sought an inquiry into the proposed MRT-LRT fare hike.
“It is government’s responsibility to provide for or subsidize public utilities like the MRT and LRT lines. Losses brought about by debt, corruption and government crises should not be passed on to the public,” Colmenares maintained.
He dismissed the “user-pays” principle that was used to determine the new fare rates as “just a way for government to gradually rescind on its responsibility and ultimately privatize the mass transport system.”
Colmenares noted that instead of implementing a fare hike, the government should increase its subsidy for the rail lines.
As many as 800,000 passengers ride the MRT 3 a day, while the LRT 1 and LRT 2 ferry about 500,000 and 250,000 passengers a day, respectively.
Zarate also slammed the government for raising LRT and MRT rates.
“The Aquino government has adopted privatization as its escape hatch whenever it needs to bail out its public utilities buried in debt due to poor management and/or corruption,” the lawmaker said.
“Before proposing any increases, the high cost of operations and the large amount of debt incurred by the project should first be investigated, specifically on whether taxpayers are actually subsidizing debt incurred by the private consortium that built the MRT (3). There is need for government to look into the operational costs of the MRT and LRT lines to check if there might be excessive expenses or mismanagement of funds,” Zarate added.
Currently, the government allocates P12 billion a year to subsidize LRT and MRT operations.
Under the new rates, a base fare of P11 will be implemented and P1 will be charged for every succeeding kilometer.
Escudero on Sunday also blasted the DOTC for its decision to increase MRT and LRT rates, saying there is no justifiable reason for the three train systems to impose higher fares.
But Malacañang justified the fare adjustment as “reasonable and timely.”
In a radio interview, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the fare hike will enable government to allot more budget for social services.
“Napapanahon nang isagawa ang tama [It’s about time we did what is right],” Coloma said. “Panahon na rin para itigil ‘yung subsidiyang malaki sa bawat pasahero para ‘yung halagang ‘yon ay mailaan sa mga mahahalagang paglilingkod panlipunan na papakinabangan ng milyon-milyong mga Pilipino [It is also time to stop the huge subsidy for each [MRT and LRT] passenger and use it to fund important social services that will benefit millions of Filipinos],” he added.
A recent study conducted by Sen. Grace Poe showed that majority of MRT 3 commuters are not satisfied with the service.
The study covered 100 MRT 3 commuters and their observations on amenities found inside every station including comfort rooms, elevators and escalators, as well as queuing time.
The MRT 3 got an average grade of 4,which is equivalent to conditional failure. Only two stations of the train system–Ayala and Magallanes–got a grade of 2.5 or satisfactory while four stations got a failing grade of 5–Kamuning, Cubao, Shaw Boulevard and Taft Avenue.
Most of the respondents complained about severe congestion inside the coaches as well as the poor air-conditioning system.
“They (MRT and LRT) have no right to demand higher fare rates, they must improve their services and facilities first,” one commuter said.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE