The 50-kilometer metrorail system has been overburdened by one million daily riders, according to Senator Francis Escudero.
He cited the need to expand the Philippines’ train system up to the provinces around Metro Manila as part of the long-term solution to the worsening traffic in the country and the increasing number of daily commuters.
Escudero said the Philippines can study the mass transport system of its Asian neighbors, who have developed efficient rail transit systems, as models for future infrastructure development.
Hong Kong, for example, has a population of over seven million people and a 218-km Mass Transit Railway network that caters to around five million passengers daily.
Singapore has a total population of only 5.47 million but is serviced by a 360-km Mass Rapid Transit and Light Rail Transit system, with an average ridership of 2.6 million every day.
According to World Bank, the population of Thailand’s capital and urban center, Bangkok, grew from 7.8 million people in 2000 to 9.6 million in 2010. It has a 100.1-km Bangkok Mass Train System carrying 580,000 riders daily.
The Philippines has a total population of about 100 million, of which 12 million are in Metro Manila. Despite the concentration of political and economic activities in this area, the Philippines only provides its riding public a 16.9-km Metro Rail Transit with a maximum design capacity of 350,000 passengers.
At the start of the year, the MRT 3 had an average ridership of 540,000 daily but this dropped to 330,000 because many of the trains had fallen into disrepair. The number of operational trains went down from around 15 to 20 trains daily to only eight, as of September, according to the Department of Transportation and Communications.
The Light Rail Transit has two operational lines: LRT 1 has a 19.8-km train system, with an average daily ridership of 500,000 people, while LRT 2 has a 13.65-km train network and an average of 240,000 passengers daily.
Escudero, who is running as the vice president of presidential bet Senator Grace Poe, said the next government should focus on infrastructure development if it wants to sustain the country’s economic growth and make it truly inclusive.
The senator said the focus should be on the train system since this is the most efficient and most economical mode of transportation. Its expansion will ease the traffic in Metro Manila by integrating the urban center with the provinces around the metropolis.
“We have to start dispersing the city center away from Metro Manila, and the only way to do that is via an efficient train system connecting the metropolis to Bulacan, Pampanga up to Tarlac in the north, and then Laguna, Batangas, down to Quezon in the south,” Escudero said.
“With that, it is possible to actually live in Laguna and work in Makati, or live in Tarlac and work in Quezon City,” he said.
According to a study by the National Economic and Development Authority and Japan International Cooperation Agency, the traffic in Metro Manila costs the Philippines as much as P2.4 billion a day due to the lost productivity and potential income of people stuck in congested roads. This will balloon to P6 billion a day by 2030 if nothing is done to solve the problem, the NEDA said.
A much older railway system, the Philippine National Railways, carries over 66,000 passengers every day. Its Metro South Commuter Train, which is supposed to run from Tutuban in Manila to Calamba in Laguna, is currently operational until Alabang Station only.
The PNR remains the oldest railway system in the country, having it officially began operations in 1892 as the Ferrocarril de Manila-Dagupan during the Spanish era.