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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Supreme Court Said: Stop LRT, MRT Fare Hike

The Supreme Court was asked yesterday to stop the implementation of the fare increases in the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Lines 1 and 2, and the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 that took effect last Sunday.
Despite protests against the fare hikes, commuters continue to patronize the elevated train service as shown by the familiar chaotic scene and long queues at the MRT North Avenue station in Quezon City during the morning rush hour yesterday.
In two petitions filed yesterday by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) led by its secretary-general Renato Reyes and by former Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco Jr., the Supreme Court was asked to issue a status quo ante order (SQAO) or any injunctive relief that would restore the LRT and MRT fare rates to the levels prior to January 4 increases.
Assailed in the petitions was the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Department Order No. 2014-014 dated December 18, 2014 which provided the “distance-based fare scheme using the P11 base fare plus an additional P1 per kilometer thereafter in accordance with the board resolution of the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) with concurrence of the Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and the recommendation of the MRT-3 Office.”
As examples of the increased rates, an MRT-3 trip from North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Manila now costs P28 pesos from the original P15; an LRT 1 trip from Roosevelt Avenue in Quezon City to Baclaran in Parañaque City is now P30 from P20; and an LRT 2 trip from C.M. Recto in Manila to Santolan Road in Pasig City is now P25 from the original P15.
The SC justices are still on recess until January 9.  But the rules provide that Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno can act on any urgent petition subject to confirmation by majority of the justices in the following full court session.
Named respondents in the petitions were DOTC Secretary Jose Emilio A. Abaya, MRT 3 officer-in-charge Renato Z. San Jose, Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) Administrator Honorito D. Chaneco, the Metro Rail Transit Corporation, and the Light Rail Manila Consortium (LRMC).
Senators belonging to different political parties assailed Abaya for unilaterally imposing increases in LRT and MRT fares.
Acting Senate Minority Leader Vicente C. Sotto III said he and his colleagues in the 24-man Senate would demand that Abaya justify the fare increases and explain the below par state-funded improvements on LRT and MRT.
Sotto and Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, another member of the Senate minority bloc, said the fare hike is not acceptable to them and to the public as the light rail system, particularly the MRT, experiences rail disruptions. 

Bayan’s petition stated that Department Order No. 2014-014 issued by Abaya “is a patent nullity, the implementation of which is detrimental to public interest.”
It said “there is no available and clear procedure promulgated by the DOTC or any concerned government agency designed to afford an adequate and timely opportunity to question the propriety of the LRT/MRT fare increase.”
In justifying an injunctive relief, Bayan told the SC that “Abaya, in his capacity as the secretary of the DOTC, San Jose, in his capacity as the office-in-charge of the MRT-3 Office, and LRTA acted without jurisdiction and/or committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess of their respective jurisdictions” when they approved the rate increases.
It pointed out that Abaya has no authority to order a fare increase or exercise quasi-judicial functions similar to those vested in the LTFRB which approves fare increases and rollbacks.
According to Bayan, “the light rail transit and the metro rail transit are public services, and are therefore subject to regulation, and their fare rate may not be adjusted unilaterally.”
It pointed out that the “light rail systems operated by respondent LRTA and by MRT 3 Office are common carriers used to convey passengers, and by their nature, they are considered – public services that are essential to the daily lives and needs of the community they are serving.”
“As public services, they are subject to regulation, not only as regards their route and the quality of service they offer to the public, but also as regards the manner of fixing the rate of fees that they impose for the use of their services,” it said.
Thus, “they cannot unilaterally increase the rates without prior notice and hearing, and without the prior approval by a regulatory agency which should look into the propriety of such rates before they can be implemented,” it added.
“Through the fare hike, the MRT-3 hopes to generate an additional P1.122 billion in revenues. The LRT 1 and 2 hope to generate P942 million. That is a total of P2.1 billion coming from the pockets of low and middle-income commuters, going to the pockets of private corporations that have stakes in the train lines, Bayan stressed.
“Majority of the LRT/MRT riders who stand to benefit from the injunction being prayed for belong to the low-income, marginalized and vulnerable sectors of the population. More than 60 percent of LRT/MRT users on the weekdays and weekends earn below P10,000 per month while a significant 15.3 percent earn nothing at all,” it said.
In his petition, Syjuco told the SC that the rate increases for LRT and MRT are not only unconstitutional but also is also violative of due process.
He said that there were no public consultations done before the rates were adopted and subsequently implemented.
“It is irregular for DOTC to grant these private concessionaires these fare hikes, even without their actually applying for a fare hike, and even without a hearing where they should have presented the bases on why they deserve a fare hike, and the extent of the fare hike increases,” Syjuco said.
He said that if the government needs to raise capital for the operations of the three mass rail lines, “gauging your poor customers with higher prices or fares” is not the answer.
“That is wrong, unsound and unfair to your customers. When additional capitalization is needed, you sell additional new stocks or bonds,” he said.
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