Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Congestion in MRT: the pain of "success"?

Call it the pains of “success.” Or at least, the people’s pains for MRT’s success. It seems that these days, Metro Rail Transit is always congested. If one doesn’t start riding at either end of the line (either in Baclaran in the South or North Edsa in the opposite end), one would always have to suffer being packed and squeezed like sardines inside the coaches.

It’s not for love of the trains; it’s because a commuter could save lots of time. What takes one hour or two in the bus just takes about 25 minutes in MRT.

But there’s another reason. It’s so cheap: the 25 kilometer stretch just costs P14 pesos (0.32 US cents), probably about a hundred percent cheaper than the bus. And it’s cheap because its subsidized, meaning that people who live in the rural areas are also paying the maintenance and bank amortization of an infra that is being used solely by the dwellers of Metro Manila, a case of the rural folks subsidizing the “richer” urban dwellers.

Also, part of the value added tax that each one pays to the government whenever one eats in restaurants or pays for the grocery goes to the upkeep of the MRT. Isn’t that unfair? Of course, it is! And it’s not really improving the quality of life of the urban commuters because artificial cheapness suggests that it would be congested most of the time, thus lowering each weary commuter’s “ridership quality.”

Solution? Why not charge the true cost of the facility? That way, we free the rural dwellers, especially residents of Mindanao and Visayas, the burden of paying for such a facility that they don’t use. Those who use it should be the ones to pay for it. And of course, when ticket prices are a little bit expensive, more people would think about riding the buses again thus lessening the congestion inside the trains.

Or maybe, government should think about charging variable prices: charges are higher during the peak hours and lower during the non-peak hours so that people would have the incentive to schedule their travel time accordingly.

People do respond to economic incentives.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. I used to get the mrt home every night, but gave up four months ago after an evening when I had to let four trains go by.

The impression I have of the MRT is that it is a great system but poorly managed. Obviously the rising price of bus travel has been a huge boon to the MRT. Logically, they should (i) increase prices, even a 25% increase would only take the Ortigas--Buendia ride from 11 pesos to 14, still way cheaper than the bus, (ii) buy more rolling stock to pack in more people and to entice people like me back to the system.

Yet there seems to be no desire to maximize profits and to improve the service in this way.

Dave Llorito said...

yeah. i mean, we should recover the true cost of MRT ride to remove the subsidy as well as generate money for improving services and fund complimentary infra.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

of course i wouldn't be able to resist commenting on this.

here's the news: very very few mass transit systems in the world are profitable. i think on HK's metro and Tokyo's system make money. Even NYC's MTA is short on cash. most systems are heavily subsidized.

why? because the governments account for the externalities of faster transport for workers, which, in theory, equals more productivity.

if the problem is bad service due to congestion -could it first be solved by more trains and more frequent trips? of course, that does raise the operating costs.

that said, i'd trade you an increase in fares to cover actual operating costs of the mrt IF you're willing to raise road and gasoline taxes to cover total environmental costs of driving (not just the road maintenance costs).

better management, yes. recovering the true costs, sure -as long as you account for the public goods generated and as long as you even up the playing field by asking road users to pay the true costs of driving, too.


Urbano dela Cruz said...

oh, and I'm for variable pricing. maybe a two-tiered system (or a third for weekends).

one other way we can look at leveraging our light rail investments and paying for the operating costs is to use value capture strategies:

increase the property tax for properties within a certain perimeter around the train stations (say 2/3 of a kilometer). -they benefit from the pedestrian traffic and location so why not capture that value?

increase the real estate taxes around the stations -and while you're there, increase the densities and height limits (floor area ratios) of the zone, too.

you'll get more housing and more office space next to the train stations -making the train even more convenient.

and, oh, pair that up with a program to subsidize not just the rail, but part of the housing units generated by the increased density around the transit station. to encourage more people to live within walking distance of the transport investment.

Dave Llorito said...

mr de la cruz: coming from you, all i say is amen!