Special Report: Youth groups assail MRT, LRT fare hike

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – Emerald, a freshman student from St. Paul University-Manila, who is a frequent passenger of the LRT, was saddened by the news that the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) and the Metro Rail Transit Corporation are planning to increase its fare.

Everyday, she travels from Quezon City, via LRT 1, to her school in Manila. After class, she would ride the Marcos-era train, run by the Philippine National Railways Corporation, going home.

“My allowance is only P200 pesos per day and more than one-fourth of it is being spent on fares… It will be a burden for me, a student who only depends on allowance, if they will increase the fare in the LRT,” she told CBCPNews.

MRT/LRT losing revenues

Last week, DOTC chief Jose “Ping” de Jesus had publicly announced that they are now studying the new fare matrix for the MRT while LRTA chief Mel Robles also said that they will also increase the fares in LRT Lines 1 and 2 in order to recover their losses.

According to Malacañang, the annual operational cost of the MRT alone is P5 billion, in contrast to its annual earnings of only P1.8 billion.

DOTC undersecretary Dante Velasco, meanwhile, revealed that the real value of the fare of a passenger taking the LRT-2 (Purple Line), that is, from Santolan in Pasig, to Recto in Manila, is P60 but the passenger is only paying P15.

“It was the government that shoulders the P45,” he said in a statement.

Moreover, the MRT reportedly owes the Bureau of Internal Revenue around P2 billion in taxes and another P1 billion with the DOTC.

In a 2008 Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded study, it proposes that LRTA should be allowed to make fare adjustments in order to arrest P800 million per year subsidy until 2015.

That same study had stated that LRTA will require government help of P30 billion to P35 billion, to meet its debt obligations over the next seven to eight years.

“That is why,” the Palace said, “such increase is inevitable.”

“Don’t burden the people”

But militant youth groups, League of Filipino Students (LFS) and Anakbayan said that the government must not burden the people on these debts.

“Instead of burdening the students and working people further by increasing its rates, the LRTA should petition government to increase subsidies to the LRT and the MRT,” proposes LFS National Chairperson Terry Riddon.

“Mass transit is a public service offered by the government, and must remain to be so. We shouldn’t be made to pay more to avail of a service that is funded in the most part by taxpayers’ money,” Ridon said.

On the DOTC’s alibi of soaring electricity prices, Anakbayan vice-chair Anton Dulce said, there is a better way to address the problem than increasing the fares: junk the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 1995* of the former president Fidel Valdes Ramos.

“In order to arrest soaring electricity prices, the Aquino government should repeal the EPIRA in order to restore the State’s power to control the prices of the prized service,” Dulce said.

“Under its GRAM (Generation Rate Adjustment Mechanism), NAPOCOR (National Power Corporation) is seeking to raise its rates by 62.51, 9.73, and 11.22 centavos per kilowatt hour in Luzon, VIsayas, and Mindanao respectively,” explains Dulde.

“NAPOCOR is also seeking another hike, this time with the ICERA (Incremental Currency Exchange Rate Adjustment). The increases under the ICERA are: 63.61, 7.04, and 3.99 centavos per kilowatt hour. Both the GRAM and the ICERA are charges that were only allowed with the passing of the EPIRA,” he explained further.

Mass transport beneficial to public

On the other hand, Dulce also explained that mass transportation system, like the MRT and the LRT, has benefits that outweigh the primitive economics being cited by the DOTC.

“It does not only reduce the costs of commuting for many Filipinos, it also helps in lessening the number of other vehicles being used. This leads to a reduction in traffic jams, air pollution along major roads, and the total amount of fuel being used,” Dulce said.

Citing a study published by the U.S-based Brookings Institution, Dulce said that public vehicles used half of the fuel required by cars, SUVs, and light trucks. The same study said that for every mile travelled, private vehicles produce 95% more carbon monoxide and 50% more carbon dioxide than public vehicles.

In addition to this, another study in Japan revealed that rail systems consumes only an equivalent of 6 kilowatts per hour (kwh) for every 100 kilometers (km) of electricity or energy, while buses consumed 19 kwh per 100 km, and cars consumed 68 kwh per 100 km.

“Take the MRT’s half-a-million daily commuters for example. Without the MRT, these commuters would translate into hundreds of more buses and taxis clogging our major roads,” Dulce said.

Due this, the two student leaders called on the Aquino government to address the issue squarely, while telling the Palace to await strikes and mass demonstrations if they would pursue the fare hike plans. (Written for CBCPNews.com)

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* This law was amended in 2001. You can view the full text of the legislation here.)