As commuter groups Train Riders Network (TREN) and Riles Laan sa Sambayanan (RILES), multisectoral alliance Bayan and Bayan Muna partylist lawmakers prepare to bring the issue before the Supreme Court, let us take a look at the sectors most adversely affected by the questionable and unjustified MRT-LRT fare hikes.
The rates of MRT-LRT fare increases are so high: In the case of the MRT, the fares for North Avenue-Taft (and vice versa) are up by nearly 90 percent, from P15 to P28. For LRT1 and LRT2, which is used mainly by blue-collar workers and students, fares have been raised by 50 to 67 percent.
The last time the Aquino administration granted an increase in the daily minimum wage for Metro Manila was in 2013: P10 for the basic wage and P30 for the so-called cost of living allowance (COLA).
The adjustments brought the daily minimum wage for Metro Manila workers to P466. (Caveat: It is only P429 for those who work in private hospitals with bed capacity of 100 or less, retail/service establishments employing 15 workers or less, and manufacturing establishments employing less than 10 workers)
Even if we temporarily forget the facts and personal knowledge that many companies do not give their workers the minimum wage, the MRT-LRT fare hikes are a new daily headache for blue-collar workers who commute via trains to and from their workplaces in Metro Manila.
Blue-collar workers have every reason to complain and protest:
- The almost-90-percent increase in MRT fares more than negates the P10 basic wage increase granted in 2013.
- The new MRT fare for North Avenue-Taft Avenue (and vice versa) of P28 is a mere P2 shy of the P30 COLA.
In the case of the MRT riders who are minimum wage earners, travelling from North Avenue-Taft Avenue (and vice versa) would mean an additional P26 in travel expense per day. This would amount to P624 per month or P7,488 per year.
P7,488 could buy a worker’s family almost four sacks of NFA rice at P38 per kilo.
It is also certain that those looking for work or extra work would be adversely affected by the higher train fares.
The MRT and LRT lines do not give student discounts at all – so much unlike jeepneys, buses, ships and airlines nationwide – and mass rail systems worldwide.
On top of this disservice to and profiteering from the youth, the DOTC’s approval of the train fare increases would raise the overall cost of education and daily expenses for students and their families.
College students who commute using the MRT, LRT1 and LRT2 would see a bigger share of transportation expenses in their daily allowances and their overall semestral and annual school expenses.
On-the-job trainees (many of whom use the more expensive MRT line) would now have to shell out more, while they are not being paid or receive paltry allowances from the companies they are serving.
The lower and middle strata of the middle class – who are a little better off than blue-collar workers – would also be affected.
Among them are the new and younger employees, the self-supporting workers, those who juggle their waking time between two jobs, and professionals who support family members still in school or are looking for work.
Also to feel the pinch are the parents of college students, who will now bear the heavier costs of sending their children to school.
Those who were convinced by government and business to move to the suburbs because of the availability of cheap train fares would now have to contend with a broken promise. Their cost of living in the suburbs while working in the city center would certainly go up.
Affordable mass transportation is important
What is as clear as the noontime sun is that the MRT-LRT fare increases are an attack on workers, students and the middle class.
Instead of lowering overall expenses for poor and middle class families and for students, the MRT-LRT’s new higher train fares would corner a bigger share of a shrinking minimum wage, student allowance and take-home pay.
The MRT-LRT fare increases also harms the mobility of these sectors who, from the very beginning, do not have their own means of travelling to look for or to go to work.
The mass rail lines were laid out purportedly to improve and democratize mobility in Metro Manila and provide cheap transportation especially for the working and middle class and students.
This is the reason why the government invested heavily in these mass rail systems for over 30 years now – whether in actually building a train line like the LRT1, guaranteeing a private company’s loans as in the case of the MRT, or in providing billions in subsidy as in the case of all the MRT-LRT lines.
The question now is what the good, hardworking people of Metro Manila – especially those hardest hit by the MRT-LRT fare hikes – would do to stop this new level of cruelty, treachery and betrayal of the Aquino administration.
Further reading: MRT-LRT facts and figures