“Before proposing any increase, 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 debts incurred by the private consortium that built the MRT.” – Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The private contractors and owners of MRT stand to receive a generous gift, but for consumers, the latter will soon bear the burden of another additional expense. Worse, the justification for this additional expense has been questioned and opposed since fare hikes were first proposed for the state-run or owned train lines in the capital. In a statement emailed to media, consumers affiliated with Train Riders Network (TREN) criticized the Department of Transportation and Communication’s (DOTC) “surpise announcement” of LRT, MRT fare hikes in the middle of the holiday season.
The group said the fare hike is “the Christmas and New Year gift of President Aquino and DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya to the incompetent MRT private owner and private contractor, and to the new LRT overlords who bagged the deal to take over the profitable, more-efficient and state-run LRT.”
James Relativo, spokesperson of TREN, said their group is contemplating legal action against the DOTC and they intend to counter the fare hike as well as file cases against those who approved it.
In Congress, the partylist group Bayan Muna urged lawmakers to fast track the resolution to probe the proposed LRT/MRT fare hike.
The Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) has already published its notice for the fare hike, which would take effect fifteen days afterwards, meaning it would take effect on the first Monday or around first week of January 2015.
The Aquino government and the private contractors behind the two railways operating in Metro Manila have always claimed that the hike is for the development or extension of the rail systems, but Senior Deputy Minority Leader Neri Colmenares have previously said these may well be done even without a fare hike. To do so now, he said, is like “passing government irresponsibility and corporate greed as well as corrupt practices onto hapless consumers.”
Groups opposed to privatization of LRT have also shown before that the current fare has been enough to maintain the trains, and that the government through the prudent operation of LRTA has managed to improve and expand the LRT even without privatizing or increasing its fares big time. Thanks to public patronage, the loans incurred to build LRT 1 have been fully paid, and it would have promptly completed its planned rehabilitation, by its own funding, if not for certain restrictions imposed on it by officials of the Aquino government, based on the year end report of LRTA.
“Before proposing any increase, 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 debts incurred by the private consortium that built the MRT. There is a 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,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate.
Once the fare hike is implemented, a ride on LRT-1, from Baclaran to Roosevelt, will cost P29 ($0.66), while a one-way trip on LRT-2, from Santolan to Recto, will be at P24 ($0.55), the DOTC notice said.
A trip on MRT-3, between North Avenue and Taft Avenue, will cost P28 ($0.64).
Currently, a ride on the MRT ranges from P10 to P15 ($0.23 to $0.34), while a ride on LRT-1 and -2 costs from P12 to P15 and P20 ($0.45), respectively.
The progressive legislators urged the House leadership to call for a special session for the probe or for the Congress Transportation Committee to hold hearings for HR 111 even during the Christmas break.
Correcting another wrong justification for MRT/LRT fare hike
Colmenares also disputed the government’s oft-repeated justification of withholding subsidy on the train operation and thus paving way for the fare hike. “The argument that the subsidy allotted to the MRT/LRT should be lowered or given to other regions because they do not use it is wrong because such an argument can also be used against projects in other regions. For example, should the Aquino administration stop constructing or rehabilitating a bridge in Eastern Visayas because the people of Mindanao would not be using it?” Colmenares explained.
Subsidizing projects for any region is not in itself wrong, Colmenares said. “What is wrong is creating conflict and division among regions and provinces and pitting the projects and benefits of one region against the other,” he said.
The announced train fare hike is viewed as another example of the problems created by privatization, which is a way for government to bail out public utilities that got buried in debt due to corrupt and poor management, said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate.
Progressive lawmakers said that instead of privatizing public utilities such as the LRT and MRT train lines, its subsidy should be increased, and its past “losses” brought about by debt, corruption, government crises and mismanagement should be investigated and not be passed on to the public.
Providing for and subsidizing public utilities like the MRT and LRT are supposed to be the government’s responsibility and another reason why it spends the peoples and money and collect taxes. Bayan Muna criticized the government’s ‘user-pay’ concept as one way of gradually shirking from its responsibility and ultimately privatizing the mass transport system.