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LRay makes ‘11th-hour’ appeal to defer train fare hikes

June 20, 2023 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 169 views

CAMARINES Sur Representative LRay Villafuerte is making an “11th-hour” appeal for the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to put off the impending fare increases at Metro Manila trains at this time when ordinary commuters continue to reel from the persistent elevated inflation brought about primarily by high oil and food prices.

“I am making an 11th-hour appeal for the deferment of the planned fare adjustments by the three train lines in Metro Manila as ordinary commuters continue to reel from the persistent elevated inflation brought about primarily by high oil and food prices,” Villafuerte said in response to the decision by the DOTr and Light Rail Transit Authority (LTRA) to raise fares at LRT Lines 1 (LRT-1) and 2 (LRT-2) beginning Aug. 2.

A similar fare hike is also impending at the Metro Rail Transit-Line 3 (MRT-3), according to its operator MRT Corp. (MRTC).

“I didn’t expect our transport officials to foist a fare hike upon our train riders in Metro Manila who, along with the rest of the Filipino ‘masa,’ continue to reel from the stubborn elevated inflation that continues to erode their purchasing power and makes it far more difficult for them to make both ends meet,” Villafuerte said.

“The DOTr, LRTA, and MRTC should not spring this surprise upon commuters in the metropolis just two months after President Marcos himself ordered them to put back the planned fare adjustments,” he said.

Villafuerte issued this statement following Monday’s announcement by DOTr Assistant Secretary for Railways Jorjette Aquino about fare adjustments at LRT-1 and LRT-2 starting Aug. 2.

In a statement, Aquino said that the minimum boarding fee for both rail lines will go up to P13.29 from the current P11, and the per-kilo rate for every additional kilometer (km) will rise to P1.21 from the current P1 per km.

The LRTA, meanwhile, issued its own statement announcing the approved fare adjustments for LRT-2.

MRT-3 Director for Operations Oscar Bongon, in a separate press briefing, said this EDSA rail system’s management will also file a petition to increase fares in the next two weeks.

He said this petition for fare hike will be similar to those of LRT-1 and LRT 2.

Villafuerte recalled that Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said in April that the President had ordered the DOTr to suspend the then-proposed fare adjustments at LRT-1, LRT-2, and MRT-3.

“This is the last thing we expect our DOTr and LRTA officials to even think about, let alone carry out, at this time when no immediate relief for ordinary Filipinos seems in sight from the ever-increasing cost of living that continues to erode their purchasing power,” the former CamSur governor and now president of the National Unity Party (NUP), added.

“First, the DOTr scrapped this year the Libreng Sakay free bus rides at the EDSA Carousel; now they are raising fares at LRT-1 and LRT-2,” he said. “What will they think of next? Could it be the scrapping of fare discounts for students?”

He pointed out that “Multilateral institutions like the World Bank (WB) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) plus private analysts have downgraded their growth forecasts for the Philippines for this year, on the belief that although inflation has been on a decline lately, it will remain high enough to dampen household consumption, which is our country’s main growth driver.”

In its latest East Asia and the Pacific Economic Update report, the Washington-based WB cut its growth projection for the Philippines to 5.6% from the previous 5.8% as inflation remained above the official target range.

The ADB has similarly slashed its growth forecast to 6%, as it expects the country’s inflation rate to outpace the expansion of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Private institutions likewise see inflation to remain high, with Maybank expecting headline inflation “to potentially remain persistent this year” and AMRO saying that elevated inflation could dampen consumption as “high food and oil prices, in particular, have impacted households’ ability to afford other discretionary items.”

Earlier, Villafuerte questioned the “surprising” turnabout of transport officials from an earlier government plan to resume this year its “Libreng Sakay” program along the national capital’s main thoroughfare, despite an assurance by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) of available, though limited, funds for free bus rides on the EDSA Carousel.

Villafuerte noted that he appealed to the then President-elect Marcos in June 2022 to retain Libreng Sakay as its budget was only good till the end of the then-Duterte administration, and on his first full day as President last July 1, the new Chief Executive promptly approved a proposal by his Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista to continue the program till end-December.

Following President Marcos’ approval of Libreng Sakay’s extension, Villafuerte said the DBM quickly released P1.4 billion for the SCP (Service Contracting Program) that same month, so the Department of Transportation (DOTr) through the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) could pay the two contracted bus consortiums – ES Transport & Partners Consortium and Mega Manila Consortium Corp. – to keep giving free rides on the EDSA Bus Carousel over the July-December 2022 period.

“So I am at a loss over this surprise turnaround by our transport officials when DBM Secretary Mena (Amenah Pangandaman) herself confirmed last month that P1.285 billion had been set aside for Libreng Sakay so the government could restart it this year,” he said earlier this year.

Villafuerte recalled that Pangandaman even said in a Jan. 12 press release that: “May pondo po ang Service Contracting Program sa ating FY 2023 GAA. Naglaan po ang pamahalaan ng P1.285 billion para maipagpatuloy ang programang ito ngayong taon.”

But barely a week after Villafuerte called on the DOTr and LTFRB in January to work closely with the DBM on the early restart of the Libreng Sakay, given Pangandaman’s announcement of SCP funds, LTFRB chairman Teofilo Guadiz III and DOTr officials announced in a Jan. 27 press briefing that this project would no longer push through despite its almost P1.3-billion allotment.

Guadiz announced in the press briefing that the DOTr officials were instead eyeing the implementation of an “expanded” discount system for buses and other public utility vehicles (PUVs).

The SCP for Libreng Sakay had, till end-December, provided free bus rides on the EDSA Carousel route from MCU (Manila Central University) in Caloocan City to PITX (Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange) in Parañaque City.