What was formerly the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) is now called the Department of Transportation (DOTr), reflecting the government’s focus on improving the movement of people and cargo. Since July 2016, there has also been a new set of transport officials led by the new transportation secretary, Arthur Tugade Jr.
Yet, almost a year since the new transportation leadership took office, “fault” incidents or technical problems at the Metro Rail Transit-3 (MRT-3) continue unabated, according to data from the transport department. Most of these incidents cause an interruption in the train service though some—those that are resolved immediately—do not.
From a monthly average of 32 incidents from January to July 2016, the last six months of the previous administration, the figure rose to 59 in the first six months of the new leadership from July to December 2016. That has since fallen to 39 in the first four months of 2017.
Running 16.8 kilometers along EDSA from North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Manila, MRT-3 is the biggest of the three urban train systems in Metro Manila by volume of passengers. Every day more than half a million commuters ride the train system, 132 percent more than the original capacity.
Because of frequent breakdowns in its operations in recent years, the MRT-3 has become a symbol, in the popular mind, of the previous DOTC administration’s incompetence or lack of concern with public welfare. Many had hoped that the coming of a new leadership team at the DOTr would finally turn things around. That remains to be seen.
An analysis of the fault incidents explains the breadth and depth of public anger over the performance of the MRT-3 system. About 60 percent of the incidents are considered Category 3 wherein a train is removed without replacement, leading to the cancellation of loops. Another 16 percent lead to the removal and replacement of a train while 11 percent involve service interruptions or cancellation of loops. Only 13 percent of the incidents are resolved immediately that there is no effect on operations.
A large proportion—22.6 percent—of the fault incidents also occur during the morning rush hours from 6 am to 9 am. Another 18.5 percent happen during the late afternoon rush hours from 4 pm to 7 pm.
MRT-3’s woes were supposed to be addressed by the delivery of 48 new coaches from Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Co. of China and the signing of a maintenance contract with a South Korean engineering firm, Busan Universal Rail. However, the new trains remain unused because of technical problems. The new trains allegedly lack signaling systems, were untested and are too heavy for MRT-3 rails.
Charges have been filed with the Office of the Ombudsman against former DOTC officials, led by ex-transport secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, over the alleged anomalies in the deal with Dalian Locomotive. The Senate is also set to investigate the maintenance contract with Busan. Meanwhile, the service interruptions continue.
Pauline Macaraeg is Entrepreneur PH's data journalist. Follow her on Twitter @paulinemacaraeg