LRT-MRT fare hike just a matter of time

The government is only waiting for the “appropriate timing” to implement the long delayed fare hike for Metro Manila’s urban rail systems, amid strong opposition from commuters and prodding from  the private firms that bagged the contract to operate and maintain the Light Rail Transit (LRT) line 1.

Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) spokesperson Atty. Michael Sagcal said Friday the department did not set a target date for the implementation of the new fare matrix for the Light and Metro Rail Transits (LRT-MRT), which will be based on the P11 boarding fee plus P1 per kilometer formula.

Under the new fare matrix, passengers will be charged as much as P30 for taking the longest LRT 1 ride from Baclaran, Pasay to Roosevelt in Quezon City instead of the current rate of P20; P25 for riding the LRT 2 from Recto, Manila to Santolan, Pasig instead of P15; or P28 for riding the MRT 3 from Taft Avenue in Pasay to North Avenue instead of P15.

Members of Bayan Muna party-list  picketed at the DOTC headquarters in Mandaluyong City, assailing the implementation of the fare increase following the privatization of the operation and maintenance of the LRT 1. The militants even vandalized the sidewalk fronting the DOTC building with their anti-fare hike calls.

Bayan Muna even sought for congressional inquiry on the P64.9-billion LRT 1 Cavite Extension Project which makes the fare hike implementation inevitable. But regardless of the LRT 1 project awarding, Sagcal said the government’s direction is to push through with the fare hike.

“We’ve gone through all the steps needed to be done. The only factor to consider now is when the timing could be appropriate considering that this year, there’ve been issues in the price of electricity and commodities,” Sagcal said.

“We don’t want to be too much of a burden to the riders but the implementation of the fare hike is really just a matter of timing,” he added.

Earlier, Jose Ma. Lim, President of Metro Pacific Investment Corp. (MPIC), said that the implementation of the fare hike is a crucial requirement for the Light Rail Manila Consortium (LRMC) to raise funds for the LRT 1 Cavite Extension Project. The LRMC is expected to secure financial closure of the deal before taking over the LRT 1 facility next year.

“The concession agreement we signed committed to the tariff hike effective August 2014. It is already delayed so we hope that the increase will be implemented as soon as possible so that we can move ahead with the creditors who gave commitments when we submitted our bid. There is also the risk that interest rates may rise,” Lim reiterated.

The LRMC has won the 32-year contract to operate and maintain the LRT 1 and extend the rail line from Baclaran to Bacoor in Cavite. Once the LRT 1 is extended to Cavite, ridership is expected to increase up to 800,000 passenger per day from the current 500,000 average ridership.

According to government records, LRT 1 is designed to transport 560,000 passengers a day but has an actual average ridership of 500,000 while LRT 2 has a design capacity of 472,000 but with an actual ridership of 220,000. MRT 3, on the other hand, has 350,000 passenger capacity but actually ferries an average of 560,000 passengers daily.