Tuesday, December 23, 2014

TRO sought vs LRT/MRT fare hikes

MANILA, Philippines - An organization of commuters and consumers together with Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz will ask the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the planned fare increase in the Light and Metro Rail Transit systems in January.

“We are filing a petition with the SC, together with the United Filipino Consumers and Commuters’ Group, to stop this fare adjustment. Our lawyers are now drafting the petition,” De la Cruz said yesterday.

“This fare increase is the worst Christmas gift that the administration can give to the public, especially the millions of working masses in Metro Manila. This is not only unchristian, it is totally uncalled for as there was no public hearing,” he added.

De la Cruz said millions of riders and taxpayers subsidize LRT Lines 1 and 2 and Metro Rail Transit 3.

“However, a good part of annual subsidies is lost to corruption. We are left with a creaking system that is an accident waiting to happen,” he said.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya has announced that fares would go up starting on Jan. 4.

He said several public hearings had been conducted in the past.

The fare adjustment will affect more than a million commuters using the LRT and MRT-3 lines. An estimated 650,000 riders take the MRT-3 daily.

Rep. Fernando Hicap of Anakpawis party-list said the government should take over MRT-3, instead of increasing fares.

He said higher fares would only benefit the facility’s investors.

Hicap said MRT-3 “was funded majority by public funds,” with only $190 million being contributed by private investors and $485 million coming from loans guaranteed by the government.

He pointed out that investors were assured of a 15-percent return on their investment.

“The Aquino government should retract its order to increase fares, start taking over the rail system and abandon its plan of using billions in public funds to buy the utility only to privatize it all over again,” he said.

Palace: Congress probe not needed

There is no need for a special session of Congress to assess the legality of the impending fare hike in the LRT and MRT because this is justified, MalacaƱang said yesterday.

“There is no need for an investigation because the basis for the fare hike is reasonable. The subsidy has been in effect for a long time. It’s time to correct the fare system,” Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. of the Presidential Communications Operations Office told reporters yesterday.

But a special probe is within the prerogative of Congress if it decides to conduct one, Coloma said.

He said it would be up to the leaders of Congress to decide on the matter, adding the executive is ready to defend its decision.

Coloma said MalacaƱang would not back down on its position to increase fares in the LRT and MRT.

He said the upgrade of LRT and MRT facilities had started even before the decision for a fare hike was finalized.

“In fact, new coaches for MRT 3 will arrive next year,” Coloma said.

“We just really need to address the long-delayed and long-postponed issue of rationalizing or adjusting the fare structure,” he added.

Coloma said government’s efforts to improve the operations of the railway systems, including maintenance and replacement of tracks, were continuing.

He said President Aquino had explained to the public the need to collect reasonable LRT and MRT fares.

Fare hike opposed

Sen. Grace Poe yesterday called on the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to defer the impending fare increase in the LRT and MRT.

Poe said the fare hike is uncalled for as commuters want to see improvement first in the railway system.

“A mass transport system such as the MRT is an essential government service. The fare increase is an added insult and an injustice to the riding public whose lives are put on the line everyday,” she said.

“The government is obligated to maintain the subsidy until the train system’s services are upgraded,” she added.

Based on the new fare matrices issued by the DOTC, rates for MRT 3 will increase from P15 to P28 (from North Avenue to Taft Avenue and vice versa); from P20 to P30 in LRT-1 (Baclaran to Roosevelt), and from P15 to P25 in LRT-2 (Recto to Santolan).

Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian, senior vice chairman of the House committee on Metro Manila development, joined yesterday the thousands of commuters opposing the LRT and MRT fare hike amid frequent breakdowns due to mismanagement.

“Instead of raising MRT and LRT fares, the government should first improve the services of the mass transport system,” Gatchalian said.

Protests set

Various labor groups are gearing for protest actions to express opposition to the upcoming increase in LRT and MRT fares.

Nagkaisa, the country’s biggest labor coalition, said different trade unions would meet after the holidays to discuss plans against the fare hike.

Nagkaisa convenor Josua Mata said most of the train riders belong to the working class. – By Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) | With Aurea Calica, Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero, Mayen Jaymalin

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