Bayan resumes sign drive, reminds public of impending LRT, MRT fare hike

MULTISECTORAL group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) today resumed its signature campaign against the impending LRT and MRT fare hike as it reminded the public that the Aquino administration is determined to push through with the huge increases next year as part of its public-private partnership (PPP) program.

Members of Bayan urged MRT commuters at the train’s busy Ortigas station along Edsa to sign the petition opposing what it called unconscionable additional burden to the people. The group timed its protest action with the deadline set by the Department of Transportation and Communication (DoTC) for interested bidders in the privatization of LRT 1 to submit pre-qualification requirements, which Bayan said is tied to the fare hike.

Bayan disputed claims of the DoTC that the LRT and MRT fare hike is needed to lessen the supposed subsidies being spent by government to operate and maintain the trains as well as to improve the quality of their service. According to Bayan, the Aquino administration is aggressively pushing for the fare hike to make it more attractive to potential private investors.

The ₱60-billion LRT 1 privatization is the largest project in the Aquino administration’s PPP portfolio. It involves the extension of the LRT 1 to Bacoor, Cavite as well as the operation and maintenance of the system by the winning bidder.

Among those that expressed interest were the largest business groups in the country with close ties to the Aquino administration such as presidential uncle Danding Cojuangco’s San Miguel, Manny Pangilinan and the Ayalas. By taking advantage of PPP, these groups have entrenched themselves in key infrastructure including power, water, toll roads, and even hospitals, among others. Now, they are also eyeing mass transportation.

Meanwhile, giant foreign companies like Mitsubishi, Hanjin, Sumitomo and Marubeni also bought LRT 1 bid documents. They are likely to partner with the local big business groups. The bidding process is expected to kick off in March 2013.

Bayan said that other than making the LRT and MRT more appetizing to investors, there is no obvious reason to hike the current fares. The group pointed out that the current fares could cover the cost of operating and maintaining the trains while planned expansion should be directly undertaken by the government. In the case of the MRT, Bayan blamed the huge costs to the onerous PPP contract entered into by previous administrations which guaranteed debt payments and profits of the private contractors.

The group said that the people should display the same intensity it showed in the past that forced the Aquino administration to delay the implementation of the fare hike. President Aquino first announced the LRT and MRT fare hike in his 2010 State of the Nation Address (Sona) and was supposed to be implemented last year. Widespread protests, however, compelled government to shelve the plan temporarily. Last September, the DoTC announced that it is pushing through with the fare hike next year but did not say the specific period.

If implemented, fares could go up by as high as 100% depending on a commuter’s starting point and destination. The fare hike will affect more than one million commuters who ride the LRT and MRT every day. It is also estimated that more than 90% of the commuters are students (32%), ordinary workers (49%) and unemployed (10%).

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