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MRT-3 exec: Long lines, waiting time to last 2 years

MANILA, Philippines - For the next two years, even after the term of President Aquino, commuters on the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) line 3 would have to endure 30 to 45 minutes of queuing just to board the train.

This was admitted by the operator of the MRT-3 during a Senate hearing yesterday to look into the current state of the public transport system and the safety of passengers.

Renato San Jose, director for operations of MRT-3 and the Light Rail Transit Authority, explained that the 30- to 45-minute queuing time is from the ground level of the MRT station to the platform where commuters board the trains.

Upon questioning by Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, San Jose admitted that there was nothing much the government could do at this time to help ease the plight of MRT riders.

San Jose said until such time that more trains are added to the current fleet of MRT-3, we cannot improve the waiting time.

San Jose said the government is in the process of procuring 48 new trains for MRT-3 but the deliveries would not come until the end of 2015 at the earliest.

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Secretary Joseph Abaya of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) said that the terms of contract for the purchase of trains require the supplier to deliver three trains a month.

Abaya said that the supplier has committed to deliver up to four trains a month so at this rate, he expects full delivery by September 2016.

Apart from the purchase of new trains, the DOTC has lined up various rehabilitation projects for MRT-3.

These include the overhaul of existing trains, ancillary systems upgrade, signaling system upgrade, rail steel replacement, upgrading of the communication system, traction motors replacement, upgrade of the conveyance facilities, construction of the North Avenue footbridge, weather protection cladding, installation of a public Wi-Fi system, passenger information system and new passenger hand straps.

In all, the DOTC expects to spend a total of P6.8 billion for the rehabilitation, which would run until late 2016.

In its report to the Senate, the DOTC presented a long list of equipment used in MRT-3 that have been bogging down or have become obsolete.

The station computer system, for instance, was available for a mere 53 percent of the time while the escalators malfunctioned an average of 204 times a month.

LRTA administrator Honorito Chaneco lamented that the escalator system of MRT-3 was obsolete and so a lot of the spare parts needed for its repair are no longer available.

The elevators, on the other hand, were available for use only 66 percent of the time because it was defective for an average of 342 times in a month.

Ticket issuing machines purchased for MRT-3 were hardly used at all since 2011.

In fact, the DOTC noted that the availability of dispenser machines went down from five percent in 2013 to zero this year.

Sen. Francis Escudero aired his exasperation over what he said was a totally skewed situation in favor of the Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTC), the private owner of MRT-3, which he said should shoulder all the costs of rehabilitation of trains and other equipment.

The MRTC has not been doing its side of the contract for the past 11 years, why has not the government through you sued them to comply or made any legal move to terminate the contract instead of us paying P50 billion for their lapses and blunders? Why do we, the Filipino taxpayers, pay for the sins of these sinners? Escudero said, referring to the P53 billion contained in the proposed budget of the DOTC for 2015.

Donft you have any plans in your pipeline to sue MRTC? Why do you allow them to barrage the government with litigations left and right by way of temporary restraining orders when clearly, they did not perform on their contract? They are in default, they have not been doing all of these in the past 11 years? he added.

Abaya explained during the hearing that the P53 billion is meant to purchase the shares of the MRTC, which is still under the Sobrepeña group, so that the government would no longer face legal headaches in the operation and maintenance of the MRT-3 line.

DOTC Undersecretary Jose Lotilla said that the government is in the process of studying the possibility of taking legal action against the MRTC for its apparent failure to fulfill its obligations as owner of MRT-3.

Sen. Grace Poe, chairperson of the sub-committee of the Senate committee on public services which conducted yesterdayfs hearing, said that the DOTC should undertake several measures while waiting for the completion of the big ticket projects to ease the plight of MRT-3 riders.

Poe said that the DOTC should have shuttle buses on standby at its stations to ferry MRT passengers whenever the trains stall for whatever reason.

She said that refund tickets or vouchers should also be given to passengers inconvenienced by train malfunctions.

Poe reiterated that the DOTC should set up covered walkways for the passengers waiting along EDSA to get into the stations.

At the very least, she said that the DOTC should lend the passengers umbrellas so that that they would not have to suffer from exposure to the sun and rain while waiting to get in.

Another malfunction

A glitch in the signaling system of the MRT-3 disrupted operations anew at the entire line for about 24 minutes yesterday right in the middle of the late afternoon rush hour, aggravating the already bad traffic along EDSA.

Lawyer Hernando Cabrera, LRTA corporate secretary and spokesman for MRT and LRT matters, said that at 4:26 p.m. the signaling system of the MRT started blinking, indicating a glitch.

This caused an order to be issued to all train operators to go to the nearest station and stay there, Cabrera said. The order shut down operations of the MRT-3.

The calibration of the signaling system was expected to take only 5 to 10 minutes.

Cabrera said at around 4:50 p.m. only half of the MRT-3 route from Taft Ave. in Pasay City to Shaw Blvd. in Mandaluyong was opened, while the line from Shaw to North Ave. remained closed.

Cabrera said full line operations were restored at around 5:50 p.m.

Abaya is expected to be grilled today on the planned P2.25-billion maintenance contract for the MRT-3.

Abaya will appear before the House of Representatives appropriations committee chaired by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab to defend his agencyfs budget for 2015.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III, one of the representatives of the minority bloc in the committee, said he would ask the DOTC secretary about the MRT maintenance contract that would be subjected to public bidding soon.

We want to know the full details of the P2.225-billion three-year maintenance contract, the terms of reference and other specifics that will explain to us and to the Filipino people if it’s worth every centavo of taxpayers’ money,” he said.

Given the huge amount involved, does that guarantee that the service of the MRT to its riders will improve and will be reliable and safe as expected of mass transit systems? he asked.

Albano noted that poor maintenance, among other factors, has been blamed for the frequent breakdown of the Edsa mass rail line.

We have to ensure that every centavo of the peoplefs money will go to where it should go, and not to the pockets of individuals who make money out of government contracts, he said.

Not too long ago, he said a partner in a joint venture company the DOTC hired as MRT maintenance service provider was formed shortly before it won the contract amounting to more than P500 million.

For the sake of the more than 500,000 commuters using the MRT system every day, there are no more shady arrangements like that this time, he said.

Albano was referring to PH Trams, which partnered with Combuilders and Tech (CB&T) to win the P517-million maintenance contract in October 2012.

It was Abaya, then newly appointed DOTC secretary, who signed the contract. The STAR columnist Jarius Bondoc exposed the irregularities in the maintenance deal.

Three personalities mentioned by former Czech ambassador to Manila Josef Rychtar were among the incorporators of PH Trams, which was formed just two months before it won the huge contract.

The three are Wilson de Vera, a certain M. de la Cruz and a Boy Maralit. A fourth incorporator, Arturo Soriano, was an uncle of the wife of then MRT general manager Al Vitangcol.

According to Usec. Lotilla, who heads the DOTC bids and awards committee, PH Trams, by itself, would not have qualified for the bidding since it was its joint venture partner that had the finances and technical capability.

However, he said his committee had to look at the joint venture, not the individual partners.

He claimed that the procurement law does not authorize a bids and awards committee to inquire into the finances and technical capability of partners in a joint venture, and to disqualify such joint venture entity if something is wrong with one partner.

The PH Trams maintenance contract is still under investigation by the House committee on good government and public accountability.

Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda and his deputy Abigail Valte took the challenge to ride the MRT – without any bodyguards – yesterday on their way to office in Malacañang in Manila.

Lacierda and Valte took the MRT from North Ave. in Quezon City to Taft Ave. in Pasay City.

Took the MRT ride rush hour challenge at 8:24 a.m., tweeted Valte. Waited in line 37 minutes. Ride took 40 minutes, North to Taft.

She said, The ride itself was okay.

Lining up along Edsa? Lot to be desired. Line to buy ticket was about 10 people deep.

Valte promised over the weekend that she would find time to ride the MRT. Well, for one, I don’t have security – so that’s one of your conditions. Ifll find time to do it. Wala namang problema, she said over state-run radio dzRB.

The two Cabinet officials followed Senator Poe, who rode the MRT without her security aides, and Secretary Abaya, who received flak for taking the train during lull hours and accompanied by several bodyguards, one of whom even had an umbrella. – With Rainier Allan Ronda, Jess Diaz, Delon Porcalla

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