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Gatchalian: Charging errant MRT drivers not enough

If you ask a member of House Committee on Metro Manila Development, it is not enough to just file administrative charges against the train drivers who caused the derailment of Metro Rail Transit or MRT-3 that injured 38 passengers on August 13.


Valenzuela City Congressman Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian argued that filing charges against erring train drivers would not solve the “serious maintenance problems” of most MRT shuttles as can be seen in the several glitches the system encountered in recent months.


“Historically, our government has a very bad track record in managing utilities and public transport. This was an obvious case in Napocor (National Power Corporation), MWSS (Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System), and PAL (Philippine Airlines) among others,” Gatchalian said.


“Our government should instead outsource the management and maintenance of these type of utilities and just concentrate in its core competence, which is governance,” he argued.


But the former Valenzuela City mayor noted that to improve MRT services, the government should outsource the management, which he clarified will not affect train fares because the government will still own the rail system.


Gatchalian issued the statement as he welcomed DOTC investigation result that revealed that MRT mishap was due to human error after train drivers and control center personnel did not follow the standard coupling procedures.


On Tuesday, DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said the driver of the assisting train pushed the derailed train beyond the MRT-3’s allowable speed from 15 kph to 40 kph, admitting that the MRT personnel should have simply towed the derailed train back to Magallanes station.
But for Gatchalian, the MRT3 mishap – which was followed by another MRT glitch last Sunday and the stalling of a Philippine National Railways or PNR train last Monday – all points to the need for a private firm that will manage the operations of the government-owned mass transport companies.


The lawmaker argued that a private operator can manage such mass transit systems better than a government agency as it would be hired to hit high performance targets, including proper maintenance of trains to ensure public safety and durability.


“A private management firm will handle daily operations efficiently because it is being paid by the government to do so. It will be in-charge of operations and maintenance, and if it does to follow performance targets, it will be penalized,” Gatchalian said.


Gatchalian said even the PNR is experiencing glitches like what happened last Monday when one of its trains stalled after it lost air pressure due to overcapacity.


“It is really frightening for commuters that four days after the MRT accident that caused injuries to almost 40 people, another glitch was experienced by MRT3 last Sunday, which resulted in the suspension of MRT3 operations for an hour,” he said.


“And this could very well serve as an indication of the seriousness of the maintenance problem of the whole MRT system,” he added.


Gatchalian said opting to have a private operator will also decrease patronage politics as the hired firm will have to focus on delivering excellent services or else be replaced by another management firm.


“The private company will be given almost no room for error, so it has to be very selective with the firms it will transact with. They can only deal with the best of the best, or their own services to the government and the riding public will be terminated,” he said.


The Valenzuela City solon also pointed out that fares will not have to be hiked in this business model as it does not have to recover investment and the government will still own the train systems


The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is already using such model, with French firm Keolis SA operating its commuter rail system under a set of performance targets and fines, he added. (Monica Cantilero)