By AIRA MARIE SIGUENZA
MANILA – More than 800,000 commuters will be affected once the petition to increase the fares for the Light Rail Transit System Line No. 1 and 2 and the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 is approved.
Data from the Department of Transportation (DOTr) showed that in 2022, more than 98 million used the MRT-3, or an average of 273,141 daily ridership. On the other hand, the Light Rail Manila Corp. (LRMC) estimates an average of 251,000 daily commuters for LRT-1 and 300,000 for LRT-2.
According to the fare hike petition, there will be an additional P2.29 ($0.042) increase in boarding fee and P0.21 ($0.0039) for the next kilometer in the LRT-1 and LRT-2. The MRT-3 also calls for a uniform fare increase with the LRT lines as they are of “the same mode of transport,” proposing a P17 ($0.31) to P34 ($0.62) fare, up from P13 ($0.24) to P28 ($0.51).
This means that the current P15 ($0.28) single ride from Roosevelt to Balintawak will increase to P20 ($0.37) while there will be a P2 ($0.037) increase for stored value cards, according to multisectoral group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN).
Meanwhile, the P13 ($0.24) ride from North Avenue to Quezon Avenue will increase to P17 ($0.31) in the MRT-3 proposed fare matrix.
‘Added burden to commuters and taxpayers’
For Bayan, these looming train fare hikes are a “great train robbery” to the Filipino people.
The group attributed the LRT fare increase to the privatization contract of the government and the Light Rail Manila Corporation (LRMC), composed of Metro Pacific Investments Corporation’s Metro Pacific Light Rail Corporation (MPLRC), Ayala Corporation’s AC Infrastructure Holdings Corporation (AC Infra), Sumitomo Corporation, and the Philippine Investment Alliance for Infrastructure’s Macquarie Investments Holdings (Philippines) PTE Ltd. (MIHPL).
According to Bayan, this privatization contract allows the LRMC to ask for a 10-percent fare increase every two years in LRT-1.
Suppose the requested fare hike is not approved, the Philippine government will shoulder the expenses of the private company, which is another form of “sovereign guarantee” because the taxpayers will be the ones shouldering the increase petitioned by the private company.
On the other hand, the MRT-3 is also privately owned by the Metro Rail Transit Corporation (MRTC) composed of Global Holdings Corporation, Ayala Land Inc, Ramcar Inc, Greenfield Development Corporation of Unilab, Anglo-Philippine Holdings Corporation, National Book Store Group, Allante Realty and Development Inc, and DBH Inc.
Under MRTC’s petition, they have stated the 25 years “Build Lease Transfer” concession agreement wherein the government will pay the MRTC monthly equital rent of $12.5 million, maintenance rental fee, staffing, and administrative costs, among others.
The corporation also estimated that as of November 2022, the total expenses of the MRT-3 add up to P8.97 billion ($164.65 million) while the total revenue is only P1.11 billion ($20.33 million), a P7.8 billion ($0.14 billion) deficit.
For Bayan, these fare hikes showed the long-standing problem of privatization in the Philippines.
“Private companies always come after big profit margins. Under LRMC’s contract, the government will pay once the corporation is not able to charge a fare hike. This is unclear and anti-people,” said Bayan.
Bayan Secretary General Renato Jr. Reyes also assailed these hikes during a severe economic crisis. This January, inflation in the Philippines reached a record-high rate of 8.7 percent.
“Is it the policy of the Marcos regime to decrease subsidies for train lines? Does the Marcos regime think that train subsidies are a waste of public funds? Government subsidies for trains are justified because of the positive economic impact of providing mass transport to workers and employees,” said Reyes.
Six of the nine members of the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) board approved the LRT fare hike petition, together with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DWPH).
This coming February 17, a public hearing will be held at the LRTA depot in Pasay City relative to applications for Fare Adjustments.
“We call on the commuting public to make their voices heard and oppose the three petitions for fare increases that are now pending before a ‘rail regulatory unit’ of the DoTr. Bayan and allied groups are set to attend the public hearing scheduled on February 17 at the LRTA depot. We plan to raise further objections to the fare hikes,” said Reyes. (RTS, RVO)