LRT, MRT fare hike: Will the poor pay more?

By Roel Landingin,

Posted at Jan 13 2011 04:01 PM | Updated as of Jan 15 2011 09:04 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Averages can hide as well as reveal patterns in data.

The recently approved increase for Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) fares, which average about 56%, is a good example of this truism.

How much commuters will actually pay depends not just on where they are and where they want to go but on the type of ticket they can afford to buy. There are two choices -- single-journey, which is good for a one-way trip, or stored-value, which can be used several times until the pre-loaded value is used up.

Let’s say you’re a daily wage laborer taking the Light Rail Transit (LRT ) Line 1 train from Baclaran to Tayuman in Manila using a single-journey ticket, perhaps because the P100 stored-value card is beyond your budget. If the government’s proposed fare increase for the 3 urban rail systems pushes through in March, you will end up paying twice for your one-way ticket.

From P15 today, it will cost P30 a few months from now. That’s an increase of P15 or 100%.

On the other hand, those who can afford to buy stored-value tickets will just see their one-way fare for the same trip rise from P14 to P21, an increase of just P7 or 50%.

Not all trips along LRT Lines 1 and 2 and Metro Rail Transit Line 3 will see such an extreme gap in fare increases for the two types of tickets. But in almost all cases, fare hikes for single-journey ticket buyers are much higher than increases for holders of stored-value cards.

Looking closely at the proposed fare increases for trips between the Baclaran station, the southern end of the LRT Line 1, and other stations to the north, Newsbreak found that fare increases were higher for single-journey tickets in 14 out of 19 cases. While the average fare increase for the 19 trips along Line 1 for stored-value ticket buyers was only P5.16 or 34.7%, it was P8 or 52.6% for single-journey ticket users.

(Clicke here for the fare matrix for LRT Line 1.)

Newsbreak found the same thing looking at the planned fare hikes for trips between the Recto station, the western end of the LRT Line 2, and other stations towards the east. In nine of 10 cases, the tariff increase was higher for single-journey ticket holders.

The average fare hike for the 10 trips along Line 2 was only P4.60 or 33.7% for stored-value ticket buyers. For single-journey ticket buyers, it was P6.80 or 50.3%.

(Click here for the fare matrix for LRT Line 2.)

The DOTC has not yet released the proposed fare matrix for the MRT 3 line.

More than a simple variation from the average, the big difference in fare hikes for single-journey tickets and stored-value cards hint at possible inequities in the payment scheme. Perhaps unintentionally, transport authorities have decreed that those who have lesser means will be shouldering a bigger fare increase than those who have more.

About 69.1% of LRT and MRT weekday commuters ride the train 5 times a week or more, according to the a Japanese aid agency’s Mega Manila Public Transport Study in 2007, suggesting that more people should be using stored-value cards.

However, 70% of the train riders instead use single-journey tickets even though these take longer to buy because of the lengthy queues, according to the Department of Transportation and Communication.

The widespread preference for single-journey tickets amid very frequent trips could perhaps be explained by the predominantly low income profile of LRT and MRT commuters, which limits their ability to buy the stored-value cards that sell for at least P100.

The same 2007 study found that 67.7% of LRT and MRT riders earned monthly incomes of less than P10,000. (See table below)

Income Profile of LRT/MRT Commuters

Monthly income Share
None 14.9 %
Less than P8,000 29.7 %
P8,000-P10,000 23.1 %
P10,000-P15,000 19.6 %
P15,000-P20,000 7.8 %
P20,000-P30,000 3.5 %
More than P30,000 1.4 %
Total 100 %
Source: Mega Manila Public Transport Study, 2007


To be sure, the news administration of President Benigno Aquino III has a good case for raising the fares to cut rising subsidies for Metro Manila’s train systems that are better spent in poor provinces that lack basic transport infrastructure.

Former President Gloria Arroyo’s refusal to increase train fares – observers believe she feared a backlash that could destabilize her unpopular administration – resulted in higher subsidies and a deterioration in the quality of train service, according to recently released Newsbreak book, The Seven Deadly Deals: Can Aquino Fix Arroyo’s Legacy of Costly and Messy Projects?

Still, how the fare hike affects different income classes of commuters could have a bearing on public attitudes towards the proposed tariff increase. Already, some politicians and leaders of leftist organizations have vowed to oppose the LRT and MRT fare increases because they could hurt low-income riders, particularly students and workers.

The DOTC has promised to soften the blow on low-income riders by considering schemes such as discounts for students and senior citizens, and corporate sponsorship for poor workers.

The LRTA has a simple explanation for the price differences between single-journey tickets and stored-value cards. They arise from the need to keep single-journey tickets easy for buyers to pay, and for tellers to give back the spare change.

The tickets come in just 3 denominations of P15, P20 and P30 in LRT Line 1 and P15, P20 and P25 in LRT Line 2.

In contrast, stored-value cards have 18 price points (between P12 and P29) for LRT Line 1 and 13 points (between P12 and P24) for Line 2.

“How fast the tellers can give back the spare change has a big operational effect” on the length of the queues and the time it takes commuters to buy tickets, said Hernando Cabrera, the LRTA corporate secretary.

He said the LRT and MRT fare structure is no different from cigarette prices. “You’ll end up paying less if you bought the whole pack than if you bought by the stick,” he said.

Commuters may have a different take. For many, riding the LRT and MRT trains is not quite the same as smoking. The DOTC is organizing public consultations on the train fare increase. Train riders may yet have a chance to have their views aired and heard. But only if the authorities are willing to listen.