Mass rail transit fare hike to bring better train services, more projects outside Metro Manila — DoTC

MANILA, Dec. 12 (PNA) — The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) on Thursday presented a proposal to increase fares for the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) lines at the one-time public consultation conducted at the LRT-2 Depot in Santolan, Pasig City.

As a background to the proposal, the transport agencies explained that the LRTA and the MRT-3 are both operating at a loss, requiring the national government to subsidize much of their expenses.

These include daily operating expenses such as overhead, power supply, and salaries. They also include costs for repairs and replacement of train and rail parts, and for the payment of existing debts.

Based on their 2012 financial records, the LRTA had a deficit of P4.704 billion, while MRT-3’s deficit was at P7.250 billion.

The average cost per passenger for LRT 1 and 2 was at P34.74. Fifty-nine percent of this or P20.46 is shouldered by the government, and only 41 percent or P14.28, was actually paid by the commuter.

In the case of MRT 3, the average cost per passenger is P 53.96. Seventy seven percent or P41.46 is subsidized by government, while only 23 percent or P12.40 is paid by the passenger.

Part of the reason why the national budget subsidize these amounts is because there has been no rail fare increase since 2003. In fact, only LRT-1 has raised its fares over the course of its existence. LRT-2 has charged the same rates since it began operating in 2002.

Meanwhile, MRT-3’s fares went down by more than half the original rates from 1999 to 2001, and they have never been raised.

As a result, it is cheaper to travel on any of the three rail lines compared to jeepneys, buses, and UV Express services, on an endpoint-to-endpoint basis.

The LRTA and MRT-3 now propose to rationalize the fare system by adopting the “users pay” principle, whereby commuters will be charged based on the distance they travel instead of the number of stations they pass. This will also bring LRT and MRT fares closer to those of other public utility land transport options.

Under the proposed “11+1” formula — which means that passengers will be charged P11.00 to board the trains plus P1.00 for every kilometer travelled — an additional P2.06 billion in revenues will be earned by the LRTA and the MRT-3. This will be deducted from the subsidy that government will continue to provide.

These added revenues may then be used to enhance services at the rail lines by improving facilities and providing better maintenance works.

According to the LRTA, its on-going and recently-completed projects involve medical and security upgrades, such as the provision of ambulances, first-aid kits, stretchers, and wheelchairs.

It has also installed CCTV cameras, walkthrough metal detectors, and signages for better safety and convenience of passengers. Defective escalators and elevators have also been repaired.

For its part, the MRT-3 said that it is already implementing its Passenger Information System and the Platform Monitoring System.

An ambulance is now also provided for emergency medical needs, and signages and walkthrough metal detectors have been installed.

It is also procuring certain items for increased safety and convenience, such as perimeter security enhancements, provision of hand straps for the trains cars, and station lighting replacements.

For the longer-term infrastructure projects, the DOTC is set to award the contract for a common ticketing system for the three rail lines this month.

This tap-and-go Automatic Fare Collection System (AFCS) will cut queuing time and will make line transfers seamless and much more convenient.

The DOTC is also currently bidding out the project to extend the LRT-1 system from Baclaran all the way to Bacoor, Cavite to serve an estimated 500,000 additional passengers.

It will also start the bidding process to build a common station to connect the MRT-3 and LRT-1 lines in the EDSA-North Avenue area in 2014. This will also make traveling more convenient.

Additional Light Rail Vehicles (LRVs) will also be delivered to the MRT-3 system to increase passenger capacity and lessen waiting time at its stations. This will help loosen up the highly-congested MRT-3 facilities by 2016.

A new rapid transit line called the MRT-7 will also be constructed to connect the EDSA-North Avenue area to San Jose del Monte, Bulacan via Commonwealth Avenue.

Finally, the LRT-2 line will also be extended eastward from Santolan to the Masinag area in Rizal province.

While all these improvement projects are being pursued by the transport agencies in order to modernize their systems and to deliver convenient, reliable, efficient, and safe services, the projected P2.06 billion additional revenues for LRTA and MRT-3 will mean that this amount can also be allocated by the national government to projects outside of Metro Manila.

Since the government subsidy is sourced from national funds, this will also mean a more equitable distribution of resources. For instance, these savings will be equal to 8,240 classrooms, 82 farm-to-market roads, or the irrigation of 11,240 hectares of farmlands.

As a result, the benefits of the saved funds will be enjoyed not only by the commuting population of Metro Manila, but by stakeholders in various sectors in other parts of Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao.

After presenting the proposed fare increase to the public, the DOTC, LRTA, and MRT-3 opened the floor for discussion to solicit opinions and comments in order to achieve a meaningful dialogue with concerned citizens.

The transport agencies will now evaluate whether or not it is timely to implement the proposed fare increase given both the considerations above and the inputs provided during the public consultation. (PNA)