Interfering politics equals coffins on Metro rails
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - January 6, 2015 - 12:00am

It’s a national sacrilege if politics will once again get in the way of the fare rate hikes for Line 1 and 2 of the Light Rail Transit (LRT), and the Metro Rail Transit (MRT).

Will our esteemed members of Congress take responsibility for any accident that could realistically happen with the prolonged delays in the much-needed maintenance and safety repairs and rehabilitation of the three trains’ operating systems?

It’s a shame that so-called “populists politicians” and high-profile legislators trying to get more public attention like Senators Grace Poe, Vicente Sotto III, Aquilino Pimentel III and JV Ejercito can call for a fare hike blockade without weighing the more important issue regarding the public’s safety.

It does not need an audit report to tell us that the MRT and LRT lines are quickly transforming into coffins on rails given the recent history of increasing broken rail incidents and the long history of neglect and abuse of the trains.

Even including the P12 billion subsidy that the national government is giving for the MRT/LRT operations, the income from fares is barely enough to cover for the day-to-day operations of the trains. Thus, any needed basic safety enhancements have been put off again and again.

This is the reason why, to cope with the weakened rails, the LRT/MRT drivers compensate by slowing down their speed to 40 kph from the normal 65 kph. If help does not come soon enough, we may be witnessing these trains crawling at 10-15 kph to avoid jeopardizing the safety of its passengers.

Let’s stop all these protests and focus on the repairs that need to be done with the additional funds collected from the rate increase.

Scheduled improvements

In exchange for these higher fares, the 1.2 million daily commuters of the MRT and LRT that crisscrosses Metro Manila’s major roads every day can look forward to this year and the following year with a lot of improvements.

On December 20 last year, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) announced that starting Jan. 4, it was hiking fare rates on the MRT/LRT by more than 50 percent, and introducing a uniform fare rate charging scheme, presumably in preparation for the long overdue operations unification of the three lines.

For the MRT line running the North Avenue-Taft Avenue route, the additional fare rate will help in procuring the much-needed additional coaches, replace the deteriorated rail plates, upgrade the signaling system, install new radio communications, upgrade the elevators and escalators, and replace the existing traction motors.

All these will primarily ensure that commuters will have a safer and faster trip, that they will reach work (or home) more comfortably (and not packed like sardines) because of the additional coaches, and more importantly, reach their destinations at the expected time and in one piece.

The complete overhauling of the MRT trains is scheduled for completion in 2016, and this should lessen – if not eradicate – the irritating incidences of trains stopping or stalling.

Unified ticket system

Finally, there will be a unified ticketing system to be stalled and operational by the third quarter of the year for all three lines. This P1.7-billion automated fare collection system for all three lines will use a tap-and-go process that will shorten queuing time of passengers.

It’s a national embarrassment that the three trains need three different tickets from commuters even when they are theoretically linked to each other. More shameful is the fact that it has taken decades for the train systems to “talk” to each other.

For the two LRT lines, additional coaches will also purchased. While MRT is by far the most overcrowded, the LRT lines are also jampacked during peak hours.

Protestors and subsidies

Understandably, many commuters will not be happy with increasing their daily budgets for fares, and it’s hard to understand why a fare hike is needed when pump prices of petroleum products are being reduced almost every week.

We can even understand the presence of organized protests such as what is being seen now at the LRT/MRT stations by militant groups that harp on the anger or frustration of commuters.

But there should be no compromises to ensuring the safety of commuters. If the new rates schedule is how much needs to be collected to have an efficient, reliable and safe train system for the metro, then let’s have it.

On the other hand, the reduction of subsidies for the MRT/LRT operations ensures that people who do not use the trains will have more tax money freed for other needs. The government subsidizes around 60 percent of fares paid by passengers using the LRT lines, and around 75 percent for fares on the MRT.

The goal should be eliminating all the subsidies for the train operations so that those that use the LRT/MRT will pay for the real cost of using a convenient mode of transportation.

Lesser road congestion

Finally, Metro Manila residents can also start to look forward to the rationalization of the metropolis’ bus lines, which could not be implemented because of pending problems with the rail trains.

Once the trains are running smoothly again and providing a commuter service that is safe and dependable, the concerned government agencies may implement another long-overdue improvement of the bus companies’ services along major city thoroughfares such as EDSA and Taft Ave.

There are just too many half-filled or near-empty buses with dubious franchise licenses allowed within the city, so much so that they cause traffic jams in highly congested areas as they wait for or race to get commuters needing a ride.

A number of schemes are being mulled by the DOTC, but the more important issue is that of commitment and political will since there are a number of bus operators that are regarded as “extremely influential” with the appropriate regulatory agencies.

Let’s hope this is also resolved for the benefit of the greater public.

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