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MRT, LRT fares up by P25 in August

To replace P1-B annual subsidy The government will impose a P25-increase in Metro Rail Transit and Light Rail Transit fares starting next month to cover the removal of over P1 billion in annual subsidies, Budget Secretary Florencio Butch Abad announced Tuesday. In a news conference during the turnover of the five volumes of the Palace-proposed P2.268-trillion national budget, Abad said the increase was in compliance with the directive issued by President Benigno Aquino III during his State-of-the-Nation Address Monday. Abad did not say when the increase will take effect as the Palace would leave it up to Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya to announce. Abaya said the fare hike will be imposed starting August but that a decision has yet to be made whether or not the increase would take effect in one go or in stages. The P25 increase would jack up the LRT fare from the current P15 to P40. It was not clear if the government would continue to subsidize P20 in the cost of an MRT ride, which costs P60. The President, in his SONA, blamed the previous administration for deferring the imposition of fare increases. He said the subsidies were unfair to taxpayers outside of Metro Manila and those who would never use the LRT or MRT, but would continue to shoulder their cost. He also slammed the previous administration for giving away the commercial development rights in the stations, which could have earned money for the maintenance of the two train systems. Abad said the subsidy that can be freed from the LRT and MRT would be used for other social services. Funds from the fare hikes, he said, would also be used to buy additional coaches for the trains. Abaya had earlier said the MRT3 would need an additional 150 coaches and the LRT1 and LRT2 some 200 coaches each. Also on Tuesday, Abaya said his department would investigate the claim of Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar that transportation officials allegedly tried extort $30 million from a Czech company. “We are investigating the whole issue [although we have not received a] formal complaint or any evidence to substantiate [the charges],” Abaya told reporters in a text message. Rychtar accused Metro Rail Transit Line-3 general manager Al Vitangcol III and four other Transportation Department officials of asking for the money from Inekon, one of the largest companies in the Czech Republic, in exchange for the contract to supply trains worth P3.769 billion. Abaya confirmed that Rychtar was referring to Vitangcol, adding that Vitangcol has filed a leave of absence until such time the department is finished conducting the investigation. “We at the DoTC express in the strongest possible terms our commitment to fight corruption at all levels. We will take all the necessary steps to uncover the truth behind these allegations, which remain unsubstantiated at the moment,” Abaya said earlier. He said the department resorted to solicited bidding for the project to ensure a level playing field, openness, and transparency. Direct contracting was not pursued because it is not as transparent as an open bidding, he said. The MRT3 capacity expansion project involves adding 48 light rail vehicles (LRVs) to its fleet of 73. The project was aimed at decongesting the service by allowing more cars to operate at a faster interval rate during peak hours. MRT3, which runs from North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Pasay City, serves nearly 500,000 passengers per day, well beyond its rated capacity of about 350,000. Currently, the train service has a fleet of 73 Czech-made rail cars, of which up to 60 three-car trains operate daily. The trains run at a maximum speed of 65 kilometers per hour to cover the rail system’s 13 stations in about 30 minutes, including short dwell times of about 25-35 seconds in each station. With Maricel V. Cruz  
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