No to MRT, LRT fare hike

Two Metro Rail Transit trains pass each other in Manila in 2010. Australia's Macquarie Group and the Asian Development Bank said Tuesday they were teaming up with other investors to open a $625 million private equity fund focused on vital infrastructure in the Philippines

Manila, Philippines --- Progressive solons refused yesterday to swallow the "bitter pill" of fare hikes for the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and the Light Rail Transit (LRT), fearing that the government's plan would lead to privatization of the transportation system.

The Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), warned the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) to brace itself for "Brazil-like" mass demonstrations should it push through with the planned fare increase for public trains in Metro Manila.

To express their opposition to the planned P25 LRT, MRT fare hikes, Bayan Muna party-list Representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate filed House Resolution No. 111 to oppose the move.

"Before proposing any increases, 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 debt incurred by the private consortium that built the MRT," they said.

"There is a need for the 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," they stressed.

While, Malacañang asked the public to bear with the fare adjustment proposed by President Benigno S. Aquino III in his fourth State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) last Monday, Colmenares and Zarate asked the House Committees on Government Enterprises and Privatization, and on Transportation to "jointly or separately conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation," on the planned fare hikes.

"Ultimately, it is government's responsibility to provide for or subsidize public utilities like that of the MRT and LRT lines. Losses brought about by debt, corruption, and government crises should not be passed on to the public. The government should even increase its subsidy to facilitate the purchase of more trains to accommodate more passengers," they said.

DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya had earlier assured that there will be public consultation first before the suggested P25 hike in fares will take effect.

Colmenares and Zarate expressed concern that a P10 increase in the MRT and LRT fares "would further increase the daily spending of low-wage earners for transportation, leaving less for food, shelter, education and other expenses," citing that millions of commuters depend on the MRT and LRT lines to get to work or school every day.

"Increasing ticket prices would most likely make commuters opt to take buses or other forms of transportation, translating to more vehicles clogging our major roads and more pollution," the party-list lawmakers said.

According to reports, MRT has 500,000 to 800,000 passengers a day, while LRT 1 and LRT 2 have 500,000 and 250,000 passengers, respectively.

Partido ng Manggagawa national chairman Renato Magtubo said the additional cost may serve as a tipping point for public's tolerance since they will have to bear the fare hike amid the rising prices of other basic commodities and services.

"The fare increases will be a burden on workers, employees, students and the poor who use the MRT and LRT daily. The government must take heed from Brazil where mass protests exploded last month over a similar hike in public transport fares," Magtubo said.

The civil unrest, which erupted in Brazil, last month due to fare hikes in public transport, was among the most violent it recorded in the last decade.

Magtubo also hit the argument of President Aquino's during his fourth SONA, where he justified the reduction of the government subsidies in Metro Manila train fares as an effort to provide equal treatment to commuters in Visayas and Mindanao.

"If that is a correct argument then how come nobody is calling for the abolition of the Philippine General Hospital even though it predominantly caters to the sick in Metro Manila and nearby areas?" Magtubo asked.

"Instead of cutting back on subsidies on the MRT and LRT, the government must provide for public means of transport such as light rails in the key cities of Visayas and Mindanao," he added.