The sad saga of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) continues. The latest from the Hong Kong inspectors of the MRT was that the broken rails of the network spell sure disaster. After their inspection of the transit line facilities, the personnel from MTR Corp. described the track to be “most alarming” and “unsatisfactory.” In particular, the MTR auditors focused on the danger posed by the possibility of the old tracks breaking, leading to “substantial casualties” from derailment. “The cases of broken rail are expected to continue to increase, exacerbating the safety risk,” the inspectors’ report said, pressing the need to replace any old rails.
The MRT had suffered from broken rails several times this past year, yet the current contractor managing the railway line, APT Global, refused to accept the findings of the report, which had been submitted to the Department of Transportation and Communications. In a House committee hearing, an APT official maintained that the MRT 3 was safe for commuters based on their actual experience. The congressmen were not moved by APT’s confidence. “I would like to put on record the statement of APT Global so that we can put him in jail if something wrong happens with the MRT,” said Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza. “It is a catastrophe waiting to happen and we want to prevent that,” said Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo.
The troubles of the MRT have unfolded this year like bad soap opera. Everything that could possibly go wrong with it has gone wrong, from an actual derailment that led to 38 injuries—leading to slower speeds for the train—to suicides on the tracks and its manager ousted over accusations of corruption. Even worse, the overall experience of riders had truly gotten worse leading to impossibly long lines for riders just trying to make use of public transportation. It seemed like another glitch led to the halting of train service every day. The MRT management, the DOTC and even Malacanang have been drawn into this headache, with President Aquino basically saying his constituents will just have to deal with it. One would think the government could at least fix the train to make Metro Manila travelers’ daily lives just a little bit better. In a country where over 600,000 passengers use the MRT every day, this is no small matter.
During last week’s Senate committee on public services hearing, Sen. Grace Poe came out swinging. In a report on the results of her office’s random survey of MRT 3 commuters, Poe reiterated the complaints ranging from kilometric queues to “packed like sardines” scenarios, the better for MRT managers to address the situation. “Why am I presenting this? We have to hear first and foremost from our commuters,”Poe said at the Thursday hearing. “From queuing to getting the ticket to entering the platform to getting in and out of the train, everything is beyond worst,” she quoted one commuter, while another passenger described the riding experience as a “disaster.” The ridiculously long and tedious lines for waiting passengers have become a tragic daily reality. The cars are crammed with too many people. The restrooms are dirty, the elevators don’t work, added other passengers.
When Poe talks about these problems, she knows what she’s talking about. Back in August, Poe took the train unannounced to see what the commuters were actually going through before the Senate inquiry into the MRT’s problems. She waited in line and rode without any special treatment, even suffering a ticket machine’s malfunction; a 30-minute trip became an hour-and-a-half ordeal. Poe showed the way by trying to see for herself how it is to be an MRT commuter. She has her heart—and her head—in the right place, and her words should carry weight when it comes to this problem, especially when she gave the MRT a failing grade.
Poe pointed out that MRT management could easily have dealt with some of these problems, since the restroom and elevator problems had been mentioned previously. “If you wanted to show your seriousness in taking care of our passengers, it would have been easy to assign somebody,” Poe pointed out. She spoke with the fury of one who had listened to the laments of people who have no choice but to take the blighted train in a city stuck in its traffic-induced gridlock. But at least she’s listening.
It’s the all-important thing: to hear precisely from the MRT passengers their daily travails, to allow the concerned government officials to apprehend the problems and to view their constituents as not just a faceless mass, but living, breathing human beings forced to endure subhuman conditions every single day.
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