POSTSCRIPT / December 23, 2014 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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MRT/LRT fare hike undue or overdue?

FARE HIKE: “Long overdue,” Malacañang said of the proposed increase of up to 100 percent in the fares in the Light (LRT 1&2) and the Metro Rail (MRT3) Transit systems starting Jan. 4.

Lalong overdue!” countered MRT3 commuters – mostly workers and students – referring to long-delayed repairs and upgrading of the line running in the middle of EDSA. They put their lives at risk whenever they ride the unsteady trains crawling at 40 kph.

This occasional MRT3 rider thinks both the Palace and the Riding Public are right in a way. A middle ground mindful of the safety and welfare of passengers should be sought by the authorities before they raise the fares.

And while we debate the proposed fare increase and the plan to privatize the light rail system in the national capital, let us hope no crowded coach jumps off the rails and falls into the traffic below.

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OPPOSITION: Press Secretary Sonny Coloma said the 60-percent LRT/MRT subsidy paid by taxpayers from far-away regions who are not train riders should stop, and that commuter train fares be closer to those of air-conditioned buses.

His point that Metro Manila riders pay only P15 for a ride worth P40, with the difference covered by subsidy taken from taxes collected nationwide, makes sense to me, but not to opposers.

Rep. Neri Colmenares said the subsidy argument is wrong, because it can also be used against projects in other regions. Picking up the line, he said the administration should not build or repair a bridge in Eastern Visayas because the people of Mindanao would not be using it.

The Bayan Muna party-list congressman said: “We are not against development or the extension of the rail systems, but against passing government irresponsibility and corporate greed, not to mention corrupt practices, onto hapless commuters.”

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PROPOSED HIKES: Data of research group IBON show that the fare on MRT3 to break even should be P60 but today’s fare is just P12-P15, with the difference being subsidized to guarantee profits for the operators.

Under the proposed fare increase, an LRT1 passenger commuting between Baclaran and Tayuman, Blumentritt, Abad Santos, R. Papa, 8th Avenue and Monumento will pay double the current fare of P15. An end-to-end ride on LRT1 (between Baclaran and Roosevelt) will cost 50 percent more than the current P20.

On LRT2, fare between Recto and Anonas and Katipunan will go up 79 percent (from P14 to P25), while the end-to-end ride will rise by 67 percent from P15 to P25.

For MRT3, a commuter between North Ave. in Quezon City and Ayala Ave. or Magallanes will pay twice the present fare of P14. The fare from North Ave. to Taft Ave. will cost 87 percent more, from P15 to P28.

As designed, MRT3 trains should be running at 65 kph, but they are now down to 40 kph because of the poor condition of the tracks.

Worse, because the rails are broken and only temporary fixes are being done — fish plate clamps are placed on the damaged portion of the rails — the trains crawl at only 10-15 kph when they pass through the broken rails.

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UNREASONABLE: Citing its own figures, IBON insists that the looming fare hikes are unreasonable, pointing out that current fares are enough to cover the operation and maintenance (O&M) costs of the systems.

It said: “From January to September this year, the farebox ratio of LRT 1&2 is at an average of 1.10. Latest publicly available data show that the MRT3 had a farebox ratio of 1.17 in 2012. (A farebox ratio of 1.0 means that fare revenues cover 100 percent of O&M costs.)

“As a mass transportation system, capital spending to improve and further develop the LRT and MRT infrastructure should not be charged to commuters through burdensome fares and instead be shouldered by the government, similar to investing in public hospitals, schools, roads and other key infrastructure.

“In the case of MRT3, the costs have been unjustly bloated by the onerous terms in the government’s build-lease-transfer (BLT) agreement – a PPP deal entered into by the Ramos administration with the Metro Rail Transit Corp. in 1997. Among BLT contract’s onerous terms are the guaranteed 15-percent return on investment (ROI) annually, and sovereign guarantee.”

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LINES BID OUT: IBON said that the Aquino administration is insisting on the fare hikes for its privatization program through Public-Private-Projects initiatives for LRT 1&2 and MRT3 to make them more appealing – because profitable — to investors.

It said LRT1 was awarded last September to the Light Rail Manila Consortium (LRMC) of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (55 percent), Ayala Corp. (35 percent), and Australia-based investment giant Macquaire (10 percent).

IBON said the P64.9-billion PPP deal with LRMC will result in guaranteed fare increases throughout the 32-year concession agreement. The fare hike for LRT1 announced by the DoTC is just the start of regular and bigger increases under the PPP deal, it added.

LRT2 will also be bid out next year. Among the groups that have shown interest are LRMC, San Miguel Corp. and Japan’s Marubeni Philippines Corp., as well as other local tycoons.

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CAMI ELECTIONS: Members of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) will hold their annual general meeting on Friday, Dec. 26, at their Bale Balita, Clark Freeport, from 8 a.m. to 12 noon. Agenda include the President’s Report and the election of new members of the Board of Trustees. More details with Secretary-General Joe Cortez (pempecortez@yahoo.com).

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 23, 2014)

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