LAMBASTED with various protests, the Palace mellowed on the proposed fare hike of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) but noted that it is one of the options to save the dying transport system.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda admitted that the operation of LRT and MRT are incurring losses due to income lower than its operating expenses.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

MRT only earns about P1.8 billion a year while its operations and maintenance cost is more than P5 billion annually.

“Palugi po ang operation ng MRT and LRT. Kailangan na kumita. Kailangan na bumawi," he said.

Lacierda noted Malacanang will not oppose the proposed fare hike but pointed out that it is also looking at lowering the expenses of the rail transits.

If it will pursue, MRT operators peg the fare, at the maximum, to P25 from current P15. Accordingly, the government subsidized P45 per passenger on its fare rate. With no equity, each passenger should have been charged P60.

The Palace however refused to assure that this will be the first and only hike, saying it will leave the discretion on adjustment to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and the Department of Finance (DOF).

“I would not be able to say that as policy direction I will leave it to Secretary (Jose) Ping de Jesus. It is based on their evaluation of the financial situation of the MRT,” Lacierda said.

The looming fare hike stemmed from President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III's plan to reduce subsidy in MRT fare, pointing that the government has no resources to sustain it.

“Ang laki masyado ng subsidy sa train, wala naman tayong pampuno nun,” he said in an ambush interview during the 3rd National Convention of Liga ng mga Barangay at SMX convention center in Mall of Asia.

Groups chide move

Militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and the National Consumer for Commuters Protection (NCCP) hit the Aquino administration for the move.

In an interview with Sun.Star, Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said they would not hesitate of going out to the streets if the government pushes the maximum fare hike in the MRT.

“Bayan strongly objects to any fare hike in the MRT and the LRT. The problems arising from the fiscal crisis left by the Arroyo administration should not be passed on to commuters,” he said.

“This is exactly a good example of public-private partnership wherein the public is at the losing end,” he emphasized.

The NCCP, for its part, said it is the government’s duty to provide mass transport, which has benefited especially the minimum wage earners who want fast but affordable mode of transportation.

Militant youth groups also expressed objection on the planned fare hike.

“Instead of burdening students and working people further by increasing its rates, the LRTA should petition the government to increase subsidies to the LRTs and the MRT,” said Terry Ridon, secretary-general of League of Filipino Students (LFS).

He said that commuting expenses are included in the mounting cost of education in the country, aside from yearly tuition and other fee increases, expensive textbooks and board and lodging.

Youth group Anakbayan said the planned defeats the basic purpose of the LRT and the MRT, which is mass transport.

“This is not a daang matuwid, but rather a literal daang mahal. Increasing the MRT, LRT fares will defeat the very purpose of mass transportation systems” said Anakbayan national vice-chairperson Anton Dulce.

The youth leader cited a recent study by the US-based Brookings Institution, which said public vehicles used half of the fuel required by cars, Sports Utility Vehicles, and light trucks.

The same study said that for every mile traveled, private vehicles produce 95 percent more carbon monoxide and 50 percent more carbon dioxide than private vehicles.

“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,” said Dulce.

Railway routes

LRT Line 1 traverses Baclaran in Pasay City to Balintawak in Caloocan City while the Line 2 starts at Recto in Manila and ends at Santolan in Marikina City.

The 17-kilometer MRT-3 passes through Edsa North Avenue up to Taft Avenue in Pasay City.

LRT Line 1 passengers are being charged P12 for the first four stations, P15 until Monumento and P20 after reaching Balintawak.

Line 2, on the other hand, imposes a top fare of P15.

Meantime, a study funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) released in late 2008 said that the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) should be allowed to make rate adjustments to arrest the P800 million per year subsidy until 2015.

“It is estimated that LRTA will require government help of P30 (billion) to P35 billion to meet its debt obligations over the next seven to eight years,” the ADB said of the financial obligations of the LRTA. (Jill Beltran/Virgil Lopez/AH/Sunnex)