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Gatchalian says LRT should improve services first before fare hike

Photo by Brian Paul

A veteran lawmaker urged the Department of Transportation and Communications or DOTC to prioritize improvements on the services of the Light Rail Transit or LRT before approving a fare increase being demanded by the winning bidder of the LRT Line 1 Cavite extension project.


Valenzuela City Congressman Win Gatchalian said any fare increase in the public mass transit systems is “objectionable” since commuters have long been suffering under the heat and rain just to buy a ticket and get a ride in the LRT and the Mass Railway Transit (MRT).


Gatchalian, senior vice chair of the House Committee on Metro Manila Development, noted that never-ending technical problems being encountered in the trains and railways of LRT and MRT can never justify a fare hike.


“It has always been my position that LRT and MRT services should be improved first before any fare increase is implemented. If you increase the fare even before the extension project begins, then we might as well let the government directly handle the expansion of LRT,” Gatchalian said.


“Para tayong ginigisa sa sarili nating mantika if this condition by the winning bidder is immediately implemented by the DOTC,” he added.


The said bidder, the Light Rail Manila Consortium, composed of the Metro Pacific Investments Corp. and the Ayala Corp., is waiting for a rate increase for the railway line, saying this is a crucial requirement before banks would lend it money to finance its share of the P65-billion project.


The LRT 1 is said to be the biggest project auctioned so far by the Aquino administration under its Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program. Light Rail Manila Consortium’s share of the PPP deal was seen at P35 billion, which would be mainly financed by bank debt, according to MPIC president Jose Ma. K. Lim.


Under the PPP deal, the consortium will build an 11.7-kilometer extension to Bacoor, Cavite, which is slated to open by 2019, and will operate the expanded 32.4-km LRT-1 for a period of 32 years.


Passengers currently pay a maximum of P20 for a one-way trip for the existing 20.7-km LRT-1. The government spends billions of pesos a year to subsidize money-losing elevated railways in Metro Manila.


A fare hike scheme has been approved by the DOTC in 2011 but has delayed its implementation, which should have started last August 1. The approved scheme, based on an “11+1” formula, meaning a boarding charge of P11 plus P1 for every kilometer travel, will increase “average rates for the average rider” by P5 per trip.


Gatchalian said the final decision for the rate hike rests on the government but based on the concession agreement it signed with the winning bidder, the government would have to compensate Light Rail Manila should it decide to hold off any fare increase.


“This is the reason why government guaranty is not good especially in mass transit systems since it favors more the project proponent at the expense of the riding public,” he said. (Monica Cantilero)