MANILA, Nov 10 (Mabuhay) — The Department of Transportation (DOTr) said it may privatize the maintenance and operations of MRT-3 to make the railway more efficient. 

MASS TRANSPORT. An MRT-3 train speeds toward the North Avenue station in Quezon City on Wednesday (Nov. 9, 2022). In 2020, the government placed Metro Manila under lockdown for an extended period of time to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus, limiting the operation and passenger capacity of mass transport units, like the MRT-3, in compliance with public health protocols. (MNS photo)

“We are looking at partnering with private rail operators for MRT-3’s operations and maintenance – under the same scheme with LRT 1 – with the rail line’s assets remaining government-owned,” said Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista.

Light Rail Manila Corp of Manny Pangilinan’s Metro Pacific Investments operates LRT-1.

Bautista said privatizing the operations and maintenance railway “is expected not only to enhance efficiency and safety but also reduce operational cost to be able to maintain affordable fares.”

He said that “railway systems should remain the most affordable and safest mode of mass transit in the country.”

The DOTr made the announcement as the government prepares to assume ownership of the railway, with the build-lease-transfer agreement with the MRT-3’s developer Metro Rail Transit Corp (MRTC) set to end by 2025.

The government currently operates the railway and pays the MRTC a lease rate equivalent to the amortized cost of the train line plus a 16 percent per annum return on capital. 

The government also collects the fare, which has not reached P1 billion yearly since 2020.

Businessman Robert John Sobrepeña heads the MRTC through Metro Rail Transit Holdings II Inc. MRTC designed the system. 

The contract, signed in 1997, dictates that MRTC will turn over the ownership of the MRT-3 to the government in 2025. 

“Nagbabayad tayo ng P7 billion a year, P700 million to 800 million a month. Yan ang subsidy ng gobyerno sa nagdevelop ng MRT-3,” DOTR railways sector Undersecretary Cesar Chavez said.

(We’re paying P7 billion a year. P700 million to 800 million a month. That’s the subsidy of the government to the developer of MRT-3.

“Pinag-aaralan yung options,” he added.

Chavez said the government should be the regulator, not the operator. 

“Ang tinitignan namin initially i-subject to consultations with stakeholders and approvals pa ng NEDA. Ang operations and maintenance ang privatized. Gobyerno pa rin ang regulator like LRT1.” Chavez said.

Chavez explained that the private sector is not bound by civil service rules and annual procurement allocations, therefore they can procure spare parts all year round

Meanwhile, commuter group The Passenger Forum warned that the plan of the national government to privatize MRT-3 will lead to fare hikes without necessarily improving mass transport services.

“Filipinos have a lot of experiences on privatization and it always tends to work against ordinary folks’ interests. Once the government sells MRT to the private sector, we are sure it will make fares higher while commuters continue to experience subpar services,” TPF Convener Primo Morillo said.

DOTr stressed that discussions on privatization are still in the initial stage. Other railways owned, maintained, and operated by the government are the PNR and LRT-2. (MNS)