It has been 15 years since the MRT began its operation on December 1999. Back then, this public transportation system was effective, convenient, and safe, and it had given the solution of the escalating volume of traffic in Metro Manila to all of the commuters along the EDSA main road. During the early times when the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) opened the ride to the public, many passengers were satisfied and amazed at the new transportation mode because of its state of the art trains, air conditioned chambers, and fast ride along the traffic zone of Edsa.
My first time
I first experienced the train when I was in 4th year high school together with my classmates to attend a scholarship interview. After we dropped from the bus which came from Novaliches, we used the escalator and stairs to go to the ticket booth to buy ticket. There were automated machines in front of the manual ticket booths where you could purchase the ticket by inserting paper bills. It was hard for us to determine which line we would follow to buy tickets, and we even had to ask the security guard. When we finally had had our tickets, we were all laughing at our stupidity as we inserted our tickets the wrong way and we were panicking why the machine was rejecting it.
When we finally got in, we were startled because of the new technology and sophistication, like automated safe doors, the cleanliness and the ambiance of the newly painted blue and white color of the train, and the cold air conditioning system.
I remember that one of my classmates had even brought a jacket because she heard from the television news that air con units of MRT would chill you even it was hot outside. I loved the cold sensation, but my most favorite experience at that time was when I could see the scenery of Metro Manila, such as tall buildings and the traffic on the road. I loved the view from the train while it was running at its exceptional speed from station to station, and I could feel pride and privilege you were as commuter.
My first job in Makati
I used to ride the MRT religiously in 2008 when I decided to work as an estimator for six months in Makati where I needed to alight the train in Ayala from North Avenue. My schedule was 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., so I needed to go from home as early as 5:00 a.m. so that I could avoid traffic when I took a bus from Novaliches. For the time, I bought a stored value ticket for Php 100 so that I could use it right away without having to fall in line.
My first few encounters with the MRT were excellent, but that didn’t last. The automated machines weren’t operational anymore, the lines had gotten longer, and the crowd got bigger. In fact, at the North Edsa station going south bound, commuters even had to stand in line outside the station, where the people were standing nearly in the middle of the road. And on the line at the train entrance, it was a man-versus-man struggle, where the strongest and the most aggressive would survive. It was survival of the fittest in terms of who would get in first.
If the train was fully loaded, it’s a matter of flexibility and endurance, on how long could you stand being squeezed, pushed, and shoved. I heard that in the USA, the distance of the person is at least an arm apart for private space and courtesy, but here in the Philippines, there is no such thing as arm’s length. I experienced situations where the train was more packed than a can of sardines.
Fortunately, I could still appreciate that the air-conditioning system was still effective even if the volume of commuters was heavy. From time to time, furthermore, we only needed to wait five to 10 minutes for the next train if the first one was already loaded. The fare from Ayala to North Edsa was only Php 15 compared to Php 32 with a bus. During the ride, I remember that there was an audio system, and there were announcements reminding the commuters the status of the ride, providing cool and informative scientific and historical trivia, playing relaxing music and the theme song of MRT right after the advertisements or when you reach the end station. And most of all, I really saved time. But this wouldn’t last.
Recent MRT status
After a couple of years of MRT operations, the quality and quantity of services have dramatically diminished. There were many things wrong: air-conditioning units malfunctioned often, damaged train entrance overhead, slow train moving, stoppage of train in the middle of the stations, and opening of train doors while running. Furthermore, the MRT speed decreased from 60kph to 40kph, and it was a big disappointment especially because the traffic on EDSA was moving faster than the train. The waiting time for each train sometimes became 30 minutes long, and that was excluding the waiting time while you were outside the train station to fall in line and buy tickets.
One of the biggest news accidents happened on August 13, 2014 when the MRT derailed at the Taft Station, and a lot of people were injured. And on January 4, 2015, the train fares hiked to sustain the financial needs of these train operations (LRT & MRT) especially for the repair, purchase, and maintenance cost of the trains. Moreover, the senate meeting held last February seemed useless, and the problem has been getting worse because of the repetitive problems of the MRT despite the fare hike approved by the administration.
There are over half a million daily commuters of the MRT, but the people haven’t received the deserved service from our public officials who control the taxes and fares we have paid. Our government has no smart short term and long term plans to solve our transportation problem as it seems that the traffic is getting worse everyday. Our government is not proactive enough as it cannot anticipate the proper maintenance and upgrades that could benefit the Filipinos. The result of the lack of government attention to our public transportation reflects the disorder of our leaders and how incompetent officials we have.
Problem & Solution
These are the common problems I have noticed why MRT no longer works well.
1. Maintenance and innovation
The main problem of the MRT is that the management had been reluctant to upgrade or purchase equipments and system for over 15 years; there are no improvements despite knowing that the commuter population is dramatically increasing every year. Because of the numerous glitches and accidents, it is hard to believe that the MRT goes through proper inspection. In many advanced cities, their train systems have fully operational ticket machines, which help ease congestion and long lines.
I sometimes wonder why there are no new trains added to the line or system when we obviously have more and more commuters. We also need to repair or replace the old cars or trains. In conjunction with this, the Department of Transportation should not only focus on the train system itself because of yearly increase of commuters but also on how they can synergize with other modes of transportation such as bus, taxi , Fx, and jeepney.
2. Lack of anticipation
MRT hiked the price of fares in January 2015 although the problems persist. The government had told us that the fare price must increase because of insufficient resources for maintenance, but it seems that nothing has improved. So now, the cause of the imprudence over the past few years has been experienced by the public. The government doesn’t seem to anticipate future problems arising from the transportation system as a whole. It seems, instead to be more reactive than proactive.
The government keeps complaining that there is not enough resources to build and rehabilitate the MRT system. The government should be transparent to the public by allowing a third party group to check the over all managerial status in terms of quality and quantity of services and financial status of how these funds are being used. The MRT should be run as a business.
With all things above considered and because of the booming growth of our economy and population of the Philippines, our public officials must do the necessary action to improve our transportation system because its the life blood of any kind of industries and sectors to expedite the delivery goods and services to the people. All in all, the administration must focus on the productivity of its people by mitigating the over all traffic nuisance in Metro Manila.
And for this coming election, I hope that every voter should not just have the suffrage to choose the candidate but also the wise knowledge and willingness to change an ugly system of which that candidate has the capacity to control and reform these continuous severing problem of this nation.