By Joe Zaldarriaga

Improving mass transport

Just after the midweek holiday break last week, the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) once again seemed like a huge parking lot, with vehicles at a standstill as many rushed to return to Metro Manila. Sadly, the congestion on Manila’s roads has become a common sight and it’s simply frustrating to think about the hours of our lives, not to mention the billions of productive time and opportunities, we lose to traffic jams.

A study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) revealed that traffic congestion in the capital region alone costs the economy some PHP3.5 billion per day—around PHP1.27 trillion per year. Imagine the jobs this huge amount could have generated.

The need for a better, efficient, and reliable mass transport system has never been more urgent to address the worsening traffic situation especially since many companies have required workers to report onsite anew following the pandemic.

As President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. recently said, the only way to decongest Metro Manila traffic is through a mass transit system, noting that in other countries—even the affluent ones ride the train. I have been to Tokyo, Paris, New York, Seoul, Singapore, Hong Kong, London, and many other countries with rail networks that were reliable for the daily commute of most people. I also had the chance to take a cross-country journey via Amtrak from Seattle to San Francisco, and from London to Waverly as well. These scenic routes were priceless and if only we had the same reliable rail system here; it certainly would help boost tourism.

Here in the Philippines, top of mind when it comes to improving our mass transit system is the country’s busiest railway line, the Metro Rail Transit-3 (MRT-3) which traverses EDSA and ferries—at most is said to serve—48,000 commuters per hour.

While significant improvements have been made to improve the commuting experience for MRT-3 passengers, much still needs to be done as soon as possible. The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is expected to soon bid out the concession to operate the Metro Rail Transit-3 (MRT-3) since its contract with Metro Rail Transit Corp. will expire in 2025.

The government is expected to pursue a public-private partnership (PPP), which I believe is the most effective, doable, and most efficient way to bolster the services of MRT-3.

The MRT-3 system is already too strained given its years of service. To enable it to keep up with the evolving demands of our economy, the government must ensure that the next operator is not only knowledgeable but is heavily experienced and has a proven track record which of course includes the financial capability and track record.

After all, addressing the problems hounding our mass transport system is not simply about moving people from one point to another. Holistically, mass transport should be viewed as a pillar of economic development that can serve as either an enabler or roadblock of progress depending on how we act on it.

When it comes to the MRT-3, the government should consider those with experience in PPPs such as Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) and its partner, Japanese conglomerate Sumitomo Corp., which have previously offered to take over the operations of the MRT-3. Had this been done, we could have had a better MRT-3 now.

MPIC, through its Metro Pacific Light Rail Corporation, has shown rail expertise with its investments in the Light Rail Manila Corporation, which operates the Light Rail Transit-1 (LRT-1). It must be noted that for decades, the proposal to extend the LRT-1 has repeatedly been sidestepped and it was only when LRMC stepped in that the initiative took off.

Sumitomo on the other hand has first-hand knowledge when it comes to the case of the MRT-3. Since assuming the railway line’s maintenance, Sumitomo has greatly improved the reliability of the MRT-3. Moreover, Sumitomo has demonstrated extensive rail expertise and network in Japan.

It’s high time for the government to take a smart and bold step by entrusting the operations of the MRT-3 to one that has demonstrated expertise, willpower, and a track record when it comes to mass transit system operations and maintenance.

Our commuters deserve better. It’s time to seize the opportunity to improve the MRT-3 in the best way possible.

By leveraging the resources, experience, and expertise of the private sector, we not only provide commuters with an efficient and effective mass transportation system that they rightfully deserve, but we also contribute to the country’s sustainable economic growth—both of which I hope will benefit future generations to come.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.


About the Columnist

Image of Joe Zaldarriaga

Joe Zaldarriaga is a veteran, award-winning communicator immersed in public service within and beyond the energy sector. He has more than 30 years of experience serving the country’s biggest electric distribution utility and is involved in a number of public service functions, as member of various committees on public safety, power supply security and electrification. Concurrently, he is a prominent figure in the Philippine communications industry, as Chairman and Past President of the US-based International Association of Business Communicators Philippines (IABC PH). He is also an awardee of the University of Manila’s Medallion of Honor (Dr. Mariano V. delos Santos Memorial) and a Scroll of Commendation, a testament to his celebrated years in public service exemplified by outstanding communications.

Joe also shares his opinion and outlook on relevant national and consumer issues as a columnist in several prominent publications and is now venturing into new media via hosting a new vlog called Cup of Joe. Previously, Joe was a reporter and desk editor of a Broadcasting Company and the former auditor of the Defense Press Corps of the Philippines. A true green Lasalian, he finished with a degree in Asian Studies specializing in the Japan Studies program at De La Salle University, Manila, where he also spent his entire education.