A PARTY-list group appealed to Aquino administration to retain the current Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT) fares and instead look for less burdensome ways to solve the financial situation of train lines.

Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño said that President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III should look deeper into where the government subsidy to the train system goes before adding another burden to the commuting public.

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“Hundreds of thousands of people take the LRT and MRT trains daily precisely because it’s cheap and efficient. People who have little time and less money take the train to work,” he added.

According to the group, the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) holds a combined 80 percent stake in Metro Rail Transit Corporation (MRTC) worth US$750 billion. The two banks have 10 seats in the 15-man board of directors of Metro Rail Transit.

In January 18, 2010, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order 855 mandating the National Development Co. (NDC) to acquire the MRTC from the two banks. The NDC will eventually privatize the MRTC shares.

“There is something really fishy here. Is the pot being sweetened for a juicy public-private partnership deal?” asked Casiño.

Casiño said it would do well to look into excessive expenses like scandalous perks, expenses and bonuses, audit the loans incurred by the LRT and MRT and check for any mismanagement before even thinking of raising fares.

“President Aquino owes it to the people to explore every possible way to keep fares down. This is not just about being popular but about government's duty to keep a very basic service -- transportation -- as cheap and accessible as possible,” he stressed.

The Palace earlier stated in a press briefing that they intend to increase the fare to P25 from P15.

Consultations

Amid mounting protests against looming fare hikes for the LRT and MRT fares, Malacañang assured commuters Saturday the government will hold consultations where they can air their concerns on the matter.

“The President is aware of the burden this will cause on the public. The DOTC (Department of Transportation and Communication) is studying the matter,” said Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.

“Concerns of the riding public will be considered in the consultations. There will be hearings for a fare increase so transport and consumer groups can air their concerns,” he added.

According to Lacierda, the consultations aim to get the sentiments and concerns of various sectors, including commuters and taxpayers. However, he did not say when or where the hearings will take place.

The maximum fare for the LRT-1 stands at P20 from Balintawak (Quezon City) to Baclaran (south Metro Manila). The maximum fare for MRT-3 is P15 from North Avenue (Quezon City) to Taft Avenue (Pasay City).

Lacierda also said the government will seek to explain to the public the need to strike a balance between subsidy and the operation of the two mass transit systems.

“Government is looking for a balance. We cannot throw away taxpayers’ money to a losing venture. And the subsidy comes from taxpayers nationwide, even those who do not use the two rail systems.” (Kathrina Alvarez/JMR/Sunnex)