Solons vow to derail MRT, LRT fare hike

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Party-list lawmakers are preparing a congressional investigation into the Aquino administration’s plan to jack up light rail transport fares possibly as early as August.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares on Friday threatened to block the 2014 budget of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) if the agency insisted on implementing the fare increase.

The left-leaning group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) launched public opposition to the plan on Friday, holding a rally at a light rail transit station in Quezon City and gathering signatures to protest the fare increase, which it described as “unfair and anticommuter.”

Trying to tamp down public opposition, Malacañang said on Friday the fare increase would be put through “public consultations.”

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya wanted to “get the sentiments” of the public before proceeding with the fare hike.

Valte said, however, that she was not sure if the announcement of the fare hike had been cleared with President Aquino.

She said officials had intended to discuss the fare increase with Mr. Aquino, but it was not discussed during the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Reducing subsidy

Looking to cut the subsidy for the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Lines 1 and 2 and the Metro Rail Transit (MRT), the administration is considering raising the train fares by P5 starting August or sometime this year and by another P5 next year, for a total increase of P10.

The DOTC has been planning to raise the fares since 2010, but has deferred it because of strident public opposition.

But to make the light rail transport systems in the metropolis attractive to investors, the administration has to turn them from lossmakers to profit centers and one way of turning them around is raising the fares.

In a talk with Inquirer editors and reporters on Wednesday, Abaya said the fare increase had been long delayed.

The fares were last increased in the early 2000s and the government must now catch up, Abaya said.

No reason for hike

On the MRT, which services Metro Manila’s belt highway Edsa, the current fare is P15. On LRT Line 1, which runs from Balintawak, Quezon City, to Baclaran in Parañaque City through Rizal and Taft avenues in Caloocan City and Manila, the fare is P15 to P20.  On LRT Line 2, which runs from Recto Avenue in Manila to Santolan in Pasig City, the fare is pegged at P15.

For Colmenares, the long delay in adjustment is no reason for jacking up the fares now.

“Secretary Abaya’s justification for hiking [the] fares defeats the purpose of constructing mass transit systems, which is to provide the public with cheap transportation services,” Colmenares said in a statement.

 ‘Public service’

“It seems that the Aquino administration is really hell-bent on increasing the [LRT and MRT fares]. [T]hey have been proposing this added burden since 2010, and we will continue to oppose it,” he said.

Colmenares maintained that mass transit systems are a form of “public service” and as such, they “should be subsidized by the government.”

“We, in Bayan Muna, will file a resolution to investigate this proposed [fare] hike and may even block the budget of the DOTC if this pushes through,” Colmenares said.

Try other options

Outgoing Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño urged the administration to “seriously consider other viable options to help subsidize the light rail transport systems instead of resorting to fare hikes.”

Casiño called for a “comprehensive review of the way [the MRT] is run toward making it more efficient, removing unnecessary perks and bonuses to management, and correcting onerous loan and business arrangements entered into during the previous administration.”

He said the government should also seek subsidy from “big business establishments” and local governments that benefit from the light rail transport systems.

He said the management could put up parking facilities to encourage commuters to ride bikes on their way to the stations.

Adding new coaches could attract more riders, increasing revenue, he said.

In a statement, Bayan said the government would use income from the fare increase to pay off debts of the light rail transport systems instead of improving the train services.

“The justification for the fare hike is that subsidy is being reduced. This means that debt payments will now be taken from the pockets of the commuters,” Renato M. Reyes Jr., Bayan secretary general, said.

He said the fare hike was also intended to “sweeten” the public-private partnership deal for the expansion of LRT Line 1 to Cavite province.

“The core policy of the Aquino government is to make big business happy, while turning a blind eye to the people’s misery. That is the impact of the government’s public-private partnership [program]. The private operators profit, while the public suffers,” Reyes said.

‘Sham’ consultation

Bayan said any public consultation on the fare hike would be a “sham.”

“Unlike utilities, where the proponents of tariff increases go through a regulatory body, the proponents of the MRT-LRT fare hike are also the regulators and operators,” Bayan said.

“Lower and middle-income commuters, along with students, will be hardest hit by the increase,” the group said.

“A P5 increase in fares may translate into a P10-a-day increase [in expenses] for two trips, a P50 per week, or P200 per month, additional expense,” it said.

“At a time when water rates, power rates and other expenditures are rising, this increase will have a significant impact on the budgets of ordinary people,” the group said.

Drop the plan

Party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap of Anakpawis said the planned fare increase “deserves the broadest opposition from the public.”

“The government must stop its plan to raise MRT and LRT fares,” Hicap said.

“Any MRT and LRT fare increase will be burdensome to the riding public. The government wants to pass on a large portion of its heavy debt burden to commuters through fare hikes,” he said.

Hicap called for a public audit of MRT and LRT revenues and operational expenses.

He said that based on estimates, 67 percent of MRT and LRT passengers earn less than P10,000 a month, while 15 percent do not have regular sources of income. With reports from Michael Lim Ubac and Miguel R. Camus

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