Put the brakes on train fare hike

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Malacañang has justified the fare increase for Metro Manila’s three train systems that will take effect in January as “timely” and “reasonable.”

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Here is how the Palace line goes: Raising the fare reduces the government subsidy for the MRT and LRT and frees up more money for key social services.

Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma also reminded one and all that in his State of the Nation Address last year, President Benigno Aquino 3rd cited the unfairness of having people in the Visayas and Mindanao shoulder part of the subsidy that benefits only train riders in Metro Manila.

Transportation and Communication Secretary Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya gives us the same hard sell, but with a dash of emotional panache: “I’m referring to the vast majority of Filipinos outside of Metro Manila – those in other parts of Luzon, in the Visayas, and in Mindanao, most especially those whose lives have been severely affected by typhoons and calamities. They will be the real beneficiaries of a more equitable distribution of these savings.”

There is something skewed in the official justification. Timely? The almost one million riders who suffer the daily torment of a train commute will vehemently disagree. This is not the time to raise fares, not when the MRT and LRT’s services are dreadful.

The lines at the terminals snake down to the street below. There is no running water in the toilets. The escalators and elevators are a joke. So is the air-conditioning in the coaches. Some rail sections are in dire need of replacement.

Reasonable? Beginning January 4, a train ride from Baclaran to Monumento will cost P30, a P10 increase. A ride from Recto to Santolan will cost P25, up from P15.

MRT riders will bear the biggest increase: P28 from Taft to North Avenue, almost double the present P15.

That is not, by any measure, reasonable.

We find solace in the fact that a couple of lawmakers are taking up the cudgels for the train riders. Congressmen Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate believe there is no reason to raise MRT and LRT fares at this time.

“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,” Congressman Colmenares said.

He also railed against “sweetheart deals that, to put it in the vernacular, ‘ginigisa tayo sa sarili nating mantika,’ (frying us in our own lard)”.

We agree with Congressman Colmenares that “it is government’s responsibility to provide for or subsidize public utilities like the MRT and LRT lines.”

Congressman Zarate twitted the Aquino government for resorting to “privatization as its escape hatch whenever it needs to bail out its public utilities buried in debt due to poor management and/or corruption.”

He said that before any fare hike is approved, “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 MRT3.”

The two legislators are calling for a special session to find out if there is an urgent need to raise train fares.

The Department of Transportation and Communication must be stopped from railroading the MRT and LRT fare increase. Let us not add to the suffering of train commuters.

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