Keeping on straight track
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - January 29, 2014 - 12:00am

 During the Christmas period, there was so much traffic along the major thoroughfares in Metro Manila. It was vacation time and last minute rush for shopping for the season. Understandably, there was just so many people and vehicles on holiday travels. This is why also the passenger volume in both the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) more than doubled during that period.

Just to get a ride in either the LRT or MRT, passengers complained that it takes them at least 30 minutes — if they are lucky — in the queue until they get to ride. Adding to the long time they wait in line are the usual tight security checks on bags and other items that passengers must go through. Since it’s Christmas holiday, the usual wrapped gift boxes prolonged the security checks.

Almost a month after the holidays, however, the long-winding queues of passengers at the MRT and LRT are still continuing. In fact, my good friend Charie Villa of ABS-CBN posted the following in her Twitter and Instagram yesterday with a supporting brief video of the situation: ”The queue to the MRT station in Quezon Avenue inhuman. It’s getting worse everyday! Something must be done!!! Tao po!!! Tao kami!!! at Yellow Line-Quezon Avenue Station.”

Reacting to Chari’s Twitter, several people added their own laments that passengers are in much worse situation in LRT-1 plying Taft Avenue. And it is not just the queuing but passengers also have to bear jampacked coaches. 

This is not to mention incidence of glitches that stop the LRT and MRT services at times in the middle of tracks or stalled at stations.

These are the things the riding public have to deal with because it’s the cheapest mass transport that spares us from the traffic jams.

LRT 1 runs from Baclaran station in Pasay City to Roosevelt station in Quezon City and serves at least half a million passengers daily. LRT 2, estimated to be serving 350,000 commuters every day, runs across Metro Manila from Recto station in Manila to Santolan station in Pasig City.

MRT 3 line runs along EDSA, with stations from North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Pasay City. It is said to carry around 600,000 passengers daily or almost twice its 350,000 capacity.

Last week, Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya announced the Aquino administration has deferred the scheduled fare increase in both the LRT and MRT.

The board of LRT Authority approved in May 2011 a formula wherein a fixed rate of P11 plus P1 per kilometer would be charged to MRT and LRT passengers. Using the formula, MRT and LRT passengers would have to shell out P10 more for those taking the ride from end-to-end.

The proposed fare hike is expected to yield P2.06 billion worth of additional revenues. Supposedly, the fare hikes were intended to finance upgrading of existing facilities, improve services and better the maintenance works.

Meanwhile, the DOTC also has delayed its announcement last week on the formal award of the contract to the winning bidders in the single-ticketing system for both the LRT and MRT. Called Automated Fare Collection System (ACFS), the proposed facility would spare commuters using the MRT and LRT lines from suffering snake-like queues as a result of the different tickets for the mass transport system.

The different ticketing schemes employed in the three mass transport systems have been blamed for the long lines of passengers buying tickets at the train stations.

The ACFS project is one of the public-private partnerships (PPP) of the Aquino administration, originally estimated at P1.7 billion. It will install a system wherein a stored-value card, similar to the Octopus Card of Hong Kong, can be used to pay for fares on the MRT 3 and LRT 1 and 2.
The results of the bidding for this project are highly anticipated, not just because of the project’s scale but also because the outcome will give us an indication of how far the Aquino government has been able to institutionalize reforms toward a transparent and independent procurement system. 

At the opening of bids on December 9, 2013, two consortia emerged on top with offers to pay the government over a billion pesos to install and run the system over a ten-year period. The AF Consortium, composed of BPI Card Finance Corp., Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC), Smart Communications, Inc., Globe Telecom, Inc., AC Infrastructure Holdings Corp. (Ayala Corp.), and NTT Data Corp. (Oracle Solutions), outbid the consortium of the SM Group, which is composed of SM Investments Corp., BDO Capital and Investments Corp., Advanced Card Systems Ltd (ACS) of Hong Kong, and Pentacapital Investment Corp., by a slim P103,900.

While the track record of the members of the consortium shows their capability to implement the project, the names behind them were big supporters of President Aquino. Indeed, a closer look at the bids will show that the devil is in the details. It raised suspicions the award of the project to the AF Consortium may have been based on some political considerations outside the bidding parameters.

Adding to the suspicion is the appeal filed by the E-Trans Solutions Consortium, composed of East West Banking Corp., Sagesoft Solutions, Inc., Pilipinas Micro Matrix Technology (PMP Joint Venture), Inc. and Pulsar Avancer Tech. Inc. E-Trans failed in the technical stage of the evaluation. But they urged and the DOTC obliged to open its financial bid anyway.

This is clearly against the rules of the 2-stage bidding process, which states that only the financial proposals of those who passed the technical proposal will be considered in the second stage. To accommodate their appeal would in effect open the project to the possibility of being awarded to a group that lacks the capacity to implement it.

The SM Group also sent a letter to the DOTC seeking clarification on the definition of the unqualified and unconditional bids.

These details bear watching. We’ve learned from past big-ticket projects that the merits of a bid are sometimes not the sole basis for awarding government contracts. Let’s all hope that this is not the case for this important PPP project. Ultimately, the government will have to consider what will literally keep the LRT and MRT single-ticketing project on track along P-Noy’s “Tuwid na Daan.”

 

AQUINO CORP LRT METRO MANILA MRT PASAY CITY PASSENGERS PROJECT QUEZON CITY TAFT AVENUE
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