WHAT can Cebu learn from the nightmarish struggle of commuters taking the Manila Metro Rail Transit System (MRT)-3? Hailed in 2000 when the system presented the best possible mass transport alternative, the MRT-3 has failed to deliver on its mandate to provide efficiency, safety, and affordability to the public.
Its maximum ridership capacity has “fallen by 35 percent” from a daily average of 463,000 passengers last year to only 297,000 from Jan. 24 to Feb. 1, reported the “Philippine Daily Inquirer” last Feb. 3, quoting figures from the MRT-3 management.
Many passengers have stayed away from the MRT 3 since technical problems have reduced the number of trains serving a 13-station route covering a north-to-south orbit, from the required 20 trains running during peak commuting hours to only seven trains last Friday afternoon.
Operated by a private company in partnership with the Department of Transportation (DOTr) under a Build-Lease-Transfer (BLT) contract, the MRT-3 catered to 550,000 daily passengers when the Sumitomo Corp. of Japan provided maintenance.
The removal of Sumitomo Corp. in 2012 and its replacement by DOTr-recommended maintenance service providers coincided with the deterioration of MRT-3 services. Hounded by issues of graft in the negotiation of contracts for MRT-3 maintenance service providers, the DOTr took over the system’s maintenance in November 2017.
Since then, multiple accidents involving service interruptions, passenger unloading, and train derailment not only delay commuting but pose safety risks. Last year, a passenger fainted at the Ayala station and collapsed on the rails as there are no safety barriers cordoning the platforms. A fellow passenger with medical training administered emergency assistance to the woman, whose arm, cut off by the train, was later surgically re-attached.
Cebu, grappling with worsening road congestion and inadequate roads, is considering mass transit options, such as a railway project and a bus rapid transit system. In weighing the technical, economic, and environmental efficiency of public transport alternatives, stakeholders should use public welfare as the golden standard for evaluating options.
“All governments in the world suffer from some degree of corruption,” an urban and regional planning consultant of local government units (LGUs) and the private sector commented to SunStar Cebu about deficiencies in the MRT-3 system. “But the massive scale of incompetence in Philippine government is mind-boggling.”
Recently scolded by House members, the general manager of the MRT-3 offered to resign. A retired police general appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte, Rodolfo Garcia, suggested using the new trains to solve the current long queues and train overcrowding. These acquisitions are not compatible with the present signaling system.
Given the state of the MRT 3 operations, facing responsibilities, not resignation, should be Garcia’s focus. Measures to control the platform crowd are inadequate as the MRT-3 guards cannot prevent the people from rushing to get in a jam-packed train even if only a few persons or no one has stepped out.
People are not cattle to be crowded inside trains and hauled to destinations. Overcrowding, especially in the first train, reserved for the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women, and adults with children, increases risks, exacerbated by insufficient air-conditioning and crowd pushing during the loading and unloading at the stations. Emergency aid cannot be immediately administered when the trains are in transit.
Yet, despite the horrors of riding the MRT-3, the approximately 300,000 passengers still patronizing the system daily proves that there are captive commuters who do not take the MRT from choice but necessity. For Garcia, the DOTr, and other officials to wash their hands off the MRT-3 mess is the supreme act of betrayal of the public good.