There is really no free lunch. It has to be paid for sooner or later. The later the charge comes, the bigger the dent it makes on the one who has to pay. That is the story from my observation of the light rail transit system in this city. There is too much mismanagement, indecision, venality. These all bring the costs up, someone pays in the end.
From a practical, economic and rational standpoint, subsidies cannot be enormous quantities of money thrown into black holes never to be seen again. Subsidies must be reasonable not runaway, inflationary and totally on one side.
Economic conditions change from year to year for which subsidies too must change. What has happened is that as the costs went up a certain percentage, subsidies went up by a higher percentage all things being equal. It makes for unsustainability in terms of justice to those who are not entitled or afforded it but belong to the same society and pay their taxes too but have no subsidies. Think of the people outside Metro Manila who have to pay their transportation costs unsubsidized. It also cuts into the operating capital of the system because heavily-subsidized fares do not leave any room for maintenance, let alone capital expenditures.
The reasons for the above are many. Possibly a lack of management knowhow, certainly a glaring absence of political will and very possibly corruption.
Leaving out corruption for a bit, the populist tendency to give in to the clamor of no fare raises is the original sin. Two presidents before this one gave in to the uneconomical, unsustainable, unconscionable demand that prices remain low and subsidies high for public transport. Now this president has to take the brickbats when the correction is unavoidable.
It is obviously unavoidable from the inability to keep maintenance standards or make any capital expenditures. Thus, the system is an ordeal to use and a danger to life and limb for accidents waiting to happen.
One wonders who should give in an inch – the riders who have jobs, cellphones, places to go or the government agency that runs the system and has to make it viable with nothing from the fares paid. In fact almost with less than nothing because for each ride the agency has costs, as out-of-pocket as that.
Everyone has to bite the bullet if there is to be a viable future. It is not just the users but the operators. Users spend more of their capital, the operators use more of their political capital. All have to pay, there is no free lunch long-term, even if it has been almost that.
As for mismanagement and venality, they have obviously been present all along. Nothing has been proved in court but the truth has surfaced. There have been shortcuts, sweetheart deals, unfair and one-sided contracts and serious neglect that was not excusable.
Having said all of the above and siding with the reduction of subsidies via a higher fare, it has to be said that the management of the system has not communicated its side clearly, reasonably or on time. Worse, it cannot even attempt by ingenuity if not some scraped together funds, to fix, repair, or correct some of the glaring discomforts that commuters have to bear. Is it rocket science to get escalators to work again? Is it superhuman effort to clean restrooms along the way? Is it above and beyond their ability to make the conditions for riders more comfortable even in simple, spartan ways? If there was some care, some obvious effort, some little improvement made not as a one-time deal but as a regular work or management routine, users would perhaps not be happy about the higher fares but would at least not be so hostile and angry. Change is always difficult to accept specially when it hits one’s pocketbook for the worse. But if it is seen to be reasonably clear, well communicated, carefully demonstrated that it needs to be done, in the long run it will hold.
All of us have to see that sustainability is the premise on which progress has a chance to come and stay.