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Monday, May 27, 2024

Gov’t assures private profits over MRT commuter welfare

The government’s assurance of private profits from day one has led to the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3 woes that has put commuter welfare on the line, said research group IBON.  The latest series of train breakdowns and mishaps is but the tip of the iceberg and will persist under a privatized light rail system. By assuring corporate profits, the government has neglected to ensure efficient and affordable public transport, said the group.

IBON said that the government still paid private firms with public funds even if they did not deliver on the MRT 3 line services they were contracted for. According to a Commission on Audit (COA) report, the government paid a Php54.5 million monthly maintenance fee to South Korean company Busan Rail Inc. (BURI) in 2016.  But during that same year the MRT 3 has had 2,619 incidents of train removals, 63 service interruptions and 586 incidents of passenger unloading or an increase of 20%, 26% and 164%, respectively, compared to 2014. BURI also failed to overhaul old light rail vehicle (LRVs) and replace the signaling system.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) also paid Php527.76 million to Chinese corporation Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Co. Ltd for useless LRVs that are incompatible with the power supply and signaling system of the MRT 3.

Yet the public still pays despite such poor service, said IBON. Since 2000, the government reported that it has been paying Php610 million monthly as rental fees to the Metro Rail Transit Corporation (MRTC), the private owner of the MRT 3. This is to pay for a 15% return on investment and US$485.5-million loan to the project’s financiers. Around 85% of MRT 3 fares goes to servicing principal and interest payments.

The group said that the government has now granted an original proponent status to the unsolicited proposal of the MRT 3 private owners to rehabilitate, operate and maintain the line. This means that if the proposal is unchallenged and approved, the entire MRT 3 will be in private hands. Under this proposal, commuters will face fare increases after two years. Light Rail Transit (LRT) and MRT 3 fares already increased by 50-87% in January 2015.

IBON said that privatized rail transport like the MRT 3 has failed to bring about the efficient and affordable service promised by the government. The group said that it is time for the government to reverse this policy and fulfill its responsibility in providing affordable, reliable and safe mass transport. ###

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