THE Transportation Undersecretary for Railways Cesar B. Chavez said a decision on the future of Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) after its build, lease and transfer (BLT) agreement expires could come within a year.

“Decision must be made by July 2024,” Mr. Chavez told reporters in chance remarks last week.

He added that the current inclination of the Department of Transportation (DoTr) is for MRT-3 to be absorbed alongside Light Rail Transit Line 2 (LRT-2) under the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA).

“What we are talking about is 2025 and beyond. That is why we have to decide now up to 2024 if (the two rail lines) will be bundled. If we bundle them, one requirement is that the MRT-3 as a project management office will be under LRTA; that is our direction right now,” Mr. Chavez said.

The new structure will facilitate any LRTA move to enter into a public-private partnership for the operations and maintenance of the two railways, according to Mr. Chavez.

“Remember that LRT-2 was left behind when LRT-1 was put into an operation and maintenance contract with LRMC. That is why the LRT-2 has a bigger subsidy,” he said.

“What we want is to combine good cake and not-so-good cake so that would be the risk shared between the private concessionaire and the government,” he added.

Mr. Chavez said that the decision is currently being discussed. Once a decision is made, it will be passed on to the National Economic and Development Authority.

Following the approved fare hikes for LRT Lines 1 and 2, which will be implemented on Aug. 2, Mr. Chavez said that the petition for an MRT-3 fare hike is still with the Office of the Secretary.

On July 3, the MRT-3 re-filed a petition after a technical fault in a previous filing in which its management failed to issue a notice of public hearing in the prescribed time.

“(The process) usually takes three months: three weeks for the publication of the notice to the public, then discussion of decision, and then three weeks for the publication of decision,” Mr. Chavez said.

He added that his office, the Rail Regulatory Unit, is currently awaiting the Office of the Secretary’s referral.

The MRT-3 management petitioned for a P2.29 increase in boarding fare, or a 21-centavo increase per kilometer, similar to the rates approved for LRT Lines 1 and 2.

Under the BLT agreement with the Sobrepeña group, the government pays P7 billion a year as equity rental payments, or about P600 million to P900 million a month, depending on inflation.

“This will end in 2025. So, what will be the focus of the income from fare box and commercial by 2025 and beyond is the maintenance and operations,” Mr. Chavez said. — Justine Irish D. Tabile