Roque takes the MRT to work

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 23) — Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque took the train to work on Thursday morning to better understand the plight of Metro Manila commuters.

This was after he vowed in a Palace press briefing on Tuesday to ride the troubled Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3) once a week.

"I have always taken MRT, especially because I always run late," he said. "But I can do that so that I can complain personally to the MRT people, Maybe I'll do that once a week."

From January 2016 to Nov. 17, 2017, there have been at least 897 glitches on the MRT-3, or at least one glitch a day.

The glitches range from technical problems resulting in passengers being unloaded to the decoupling of two northbound MRT trains on Nov. 16, which resulted to around 140 passengers walking on the tracks for 10 minutes.

Read: Passengers walk from Ayala to Buendia stations after MRT train detaches

Roque arrived at the MRT North Avenue station past 9 a.m., which is after the rush hour on the railway.

His arrival was around the same time that Transportation Secretary for Rails Cesar Chavez announced his resignation amid the numerous problems facing the MRT.

Read: Key transport undersecretary resigns over MRT-3 mess

After buying tickets, Roque and members of the media squeezed their way onto the platform.

"Ang pila talaga, paikot-ikot," he said. "Hindi na nga ito rush hour, 1/4 kilometer pa yata yung pila. So I could imagine na kapag rush hour na paikot-ikot na parang ahas, baka isang kilometro nga ang pila."

[Translation: The line is really going round and round. This isn't even the rush hour, but the line is about 1/4 of a kilometer long. So I could imagine that if it were rush hour, the line might be a kilometer and snaking around the terminal.]

MRT maintenance issues

Once inside the cramped MRT train car, Roque talked to some of the passengers about efforts to improve the train.

"Kasi ang problema talaga dito, hindi naman 'yan sinimulan niyan ni President Duterte, pero hindi naman naghuhugas-kamay," he said. "Kaya nga tinakeover na ng MRT ang maintenance.

[Translation: The problem here didn't real under President Duterte, but he's not washing his hands. That's why the government took over the MRT's maintenance.]

On November 6, the government took the reins for the railway's maintenance from Busan Universal Rail, Inc. (BURI) due to the company's alleged poor performance.

Read: DOTr: Gov't to take over MRT maintenance

BURI officials, as well as Cabinet officials under the Aquino administration, likewise face plunder charges for the allegedly anomalous, ₱3.8-billion maintenance contract that the government signed with BURI.

Read: Former Aquino Cabinet officials face plunder complaint over MRT-3 maintenance contract

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade told CNN Philippines that the government is hoping to get a new maintenance provider by the end of 2017.

Read: Gov't hopes to get new MRT-3 maintenance provider by end-2017

Before resigning, Chavez said on Thursday that the government was also eyeing a total overhaul of the MRT-3, from getting new trains to replacing the rails.

After 40 minutes, Roque arrived at the Taft Avenue station. However, he had a minor setback when his Beep card, a stored value card that allows commuters to use public transport without having to fall in line to buy a ticket, did not have enough credits.

After security let him through a gate, he had to line up to get a ticket for the Light Rail Transit 1 (LRT-1) that goes to Manila.

"Mabilis naman siya at malamig," Roque said of his MRT ride. "Siksikan lang. Kinakailangan talaga dagdagan natin ang bagon."

[Translation: It's fairly quick and the cars are cool. It is tight, though. We really need to add more train cars.]

LRT more efficient

However, there was more room on the LRT, which took Roque from the MRT Taft Avenue station to the LRT Central Terminal station.

Before getting into his car to head for Malacañang, Roque noted the difference between the two rail lines.

"Wala naman naging aberya doon sa ating biyahe sa MRT at LRT," he said. "Parehong mabilis, parehong malamig, pero parehong siksikan. Parang mas siksikan talaga dun sa MRT kesa sa LRT."

[Translation: We didn't encounter any glitches in our trip on the MRT and LRT. Both were fast, both were cool, but both were cramped. Although the MRT really seemed to be more cramped than the LRT.]

"Itong LRT, napapatakbo naman pala ng tama, so sigurado ako na gagawin ng DOTr (Department of Transportation) ng lahat para maging kapareho lang ng LRT ang pagtakbo ng MRT," Roque added.

[Translation: The LRT is being run properly, so I'm sure that the DOTr will do everything so that MRT runs as efficiently as the LRT.]

On Nov. 17, Chavez said the government is eyeing the ₱20-billion unsolicited proposal of the Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) to take over the MRT-3's operation and maintenance.

Read: Gov't considering replacing MRT train system

MPIC and the Ayala Corporation operate the LRT-1 through their joint venture, Light Rail Manila.

"In their timeline, within seven months, they'll take over the maintenance and operations and start the rehabilitation of the entire system," Chavez said. "It will be subjected to Swiss challenge and, if successful, a contract may be entered into by the government."

A Swiss challenge means the government initiates a bidding process that would allow other companies to compete with one company's unsolicited bid.

Meanwhile, Roque said he will share his experience with the President and concerned transportation officials.