Government should invest more trains to maximize ridership

By Jason de Asis

SENATE OFFICE, Manila, October 31, 2010-The government should invest in procuring more train coaches to maximize the ridership potential of the railway system and, in the process, turn in a decent return of investment (ROI), instead of a fare hike to boost the viability of Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3).


Sen. Ralph G. Recto disclosed the whole MRT-3 line is actually good for a daily ridership of 650,000 but only about 500,000 or even less are serviced daily due to lack of coaches.


The projected 650,000 commuters daily are determined when the government allocates its annual subsidy for MRT-3.


Recto said that essentially, taxpayers are shouldering the fare subsidy of 650,000 passengers but since only 500,000 show up daily, there are, in effect, 150,000 ghost riders, adding that they are subsidizing the phantom fare of 150,000 ghost riders with or without them on the trains. Fare rates for the MRT-3 have been kept low over the years due to the subsidy provided by government, which averages to P5 billion a year.


The fare subsidy is pegged at P7.3 billion from this year’s subsidy of P5.4 billion. The allocation effectively increases the subsidy per passenger from the current P45 to P47.77 per commuter or up by P2.70 per passenger in 2011. The current fare rate in MRT-3 is P11 to P14, depending on the distance but proposals call for a fare hike that would bring the fare rate to P20-P25. The mass transit railway line that runs along EDSA earns only an estimated P1.8 billion a year.


According to Recto, the subsidy could be significantly reduced if government would invest in providing new coaches to address the current shortage and finally capture the 150,000 ghost riders.


There is a shortage of coaches. The MRT-3 is no longer living up to its promise as a safe and convenient way to reach one’s destination.


The MRT-3 as seen by the Senator is servicing 150,000 reel drivers. The 150,000 host commuters have yet to actually ride the MRT-3 but the train system is already operating with congestion, adding that with the increase in volume of passengers due to the new coaches, the MRT-3 would be able to make some modest profit and gradually scale down its subsidy dependence. This way the need for fare hikes would be lessened.


He urged government to re-evaluate plans to increase the fare rates in the MRT 3 and in the two (2) lines of the Light Rail Transit (LRT).


“If the increase seeks to unburden the government of the subsidy it provides to these mass transport systems, then I oppose the plan for being ill-conceived. But if it will be used to improve the services of the MRT and LRT, then further discussions are in order,” Recto said.


He said the government may be provoking a commuter revolt if it proceeds to hike the fare rates of these rail systems without improving their operations for the benefit of the riding public.


“MRT and LRT passengers who are used to paying a subsidized rate would find it very difficult to shell out more of their hard-earned money without seeing any discernible enhancement in their riding experience,” he said.


The MRT-3 has been taken over by the government through Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) from a local private consortium led by the Sobrepeña family.


MRT 3 has a 17 kilometer stretch from Taft Avenue in Pasay City to North Avenue in Quezon City and soon will be linked to the LRT Line 1, which ply from Baclaran in Pasay City to Monumento in Caloocan. (Jason de Asis)