No time to waste

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star

The Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Center has just endorsed to the Department of Transportation (DOTr) a proposal from the consortium of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) and Japan’s Sumitomo Corp. for the rehabilitation, operation, and maintenance of Metro Rail Transit Line 3 that aims to achieve an increase in ridership capacity, improve the reliability of the whole MRT3 structure and system and provide better passenger experience.

To those being inconvenienced not only by the lack of interoperability between Metro Manila’s two main public transport systems but also the worsening traffic situation, this is certainly a much-welcome development.

The proposal consists not only of carrying out the rehabilitation works and operating and maintaining the system but also undertaking system upgrades and improvements, carrying out the necessary system and operational interventions to allow through-train-operations (TTO) or to “close the loop,” introducing new technology, and the construction of the South interconnection facility and its operation and maintenance, among others.

According to the proponents, the aging MRT 3 system is already approaching the end of its design life and although the recent general overhaul may have given a life extension of five years, maintainability will become a primary concern. To avoid a repeat, there is an urgent need to implement a comprehensive capital expenditure and deliberate systems plan to address both immediate as well as long-term needs and service objectives of this aging infrastructure, together with the efficient execution of the appropriate maintenance regimen.

But what really is highly anticipated by many is the so-called closing of the loop between MRT3 and LRT Line 1, which can be achieved if the MPIC group, which operates LRT 1, also manages MRT 3. The proponents noted that achieving TTO by closing the loop between the two train systems will result in passenger confidence, decreased travel time and expense and more importantly, mitigate the traffic congestion along the combined alignment especially along EDSA.

MPIC noted that being majority shareholders of Light Rail Management Corp. (LRMC) which operates LRT 1, they are in a unique position to implement different levels of integration between LRT 1 and MRT 3, thus avoiding any commercial and contractual conflicts.

Once integration is realized and capacity is increased at the soonest possible time, it is expected that there will be a potential decrease of 23 percent in traffic volume in EDSA.

The fact that the proposal is an unsolicited one makes it even better. Not only will it take a shorter time to award the contract compared to a solicited one, it will also avoid having to further extend the current contract the maintenance fee alone of which costs government a whopping P166 million per month, eliminate the P1.3 billion annual subsidy to MRT3 at the earliest possible time, allow the government to immediately receive concession payments, and put an end to the need for government funding for system upgrades throughout the concession period.

According to NEDA Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, what the President wants is a comprehensive holistic approach to solving the traffic problem instead of a piecemeal approach as has been the case all these years. “If there is a checkpoint in one, it affects the whole system. That’s why we really look at it as a system,” Balisacan emphasized.

And the country is losing too much from traffic. JICA has estimated the cost of opportunity loss due to Metro Manila traffic at P3.5 billion and this will increase even more as the number of vehicles continue to rise.

Recently, the Management Association of the Philippines has urged the government to declare a state of calamity in Metro Manila in view of its worsening traffic congestion.

Metro Manila has emerged as the metro area with the worst traffic congestion last year, according to digital navigation site TomTom, with driving 10 km in Metro Manila taking about 25.3 minutes or 50 seconds slower than in 2022.

The whole country should also be rallying for a mass transport system that is rail-based. After all, railway is the most sustainable and cleanest. Not only are there no harmful emissions, trains can also carry the most number of people in the shortest amount time in very large capacities. One train in fact can carry over 1,200 passengers every 2.5 minutes.

And once MRT3 and LRT1 are integrated, this will create a network of 33 stations now and another 38 stations by the end of the year. MPIC has revealed that LRT1 will open the first five stations of its Cavite extension this year, thus expanding its reach to the south. This system will cover eight cities in Metro Manila namely Paranaque, Pasay, Manila, Caloocan, Quezon City, Mandaluyong, San Juan and Makati.

It was also pointed out that LRT1 and MRT3 can also be integrated with a second common station in the EDSA-Taft area.

But to further improve passenger experience, there is a need to develop together with the railway stations integrated transport terminals and transit-oriented developments for better first and last-mile connectivity. Basically what this means is that once you get off the train, you don’t have to travel or even walk far just to ride a bus, a jeepney, or even a tricycle, and vice-versa.

With the government’s concession agreement with Sobrepena-led Metro Rail Transit for the operation and maintenance of MRT3 expiring in July 2025, the DOTr shouldn’t waste any more time and people’s money. By approving the MPIC-Sumitomo unsolicited proposal and subjecting it to a Swiss challenge the soonest possible time, MRT3 riders can look forward to a better and safer ridership and for the rest of the population, a better traffic situation soon.


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