Something fishy is going on with the MRT. For about two to three weeks now, passengers can’t get their hands on the stored value ticket. Apparently, it’s gone and no one knows where it is. If anyone in the MRT management knows where the card is, they’re not telling us. Like an abducted guerrilla without any trace of evidence, no drop of blood or sweat on the floor, the stored value ticket has magically disappeared, leaving nothing but a haunting air of mystery behind.
It Happened Before
I’ve been riding the MRT for years that I could say I know every nook and cranny of the sticky trains and the grisly platforms. In all my years of riding this rattling sardine can, I’ve never experienced a stored value ticket shortage on the scale of what’s happening now.
But interestingly, there was a precedent. A little digging on the MRT’s history reveals that stored-value ticket shortages similar to this scale happened a long time ago, back in 2005. Like what’s happening today, the MRT had no official announcement whatsoever about why they’re running short on single journey and stored value tickets. There were ridiculous cases when guards just signed pieces of paper to let passengers in and out of platforms.
Eventually though, it became apparent what’s the cause of all the unfunny comedy. The MRT management had resorted to withholding “old” tickets with Erap’s face on them from passengers. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was sworn in the year before in June 2004, and someone must have ordered the MRTC to phase out Erap tickets to make way for the GMA tickets which aimed to conquer the MRT universe as soon as possible. Until all the old tickets were replaced, the management decided to literally cut out Erap’s face from the old tickets so passengers can use them. Passengers used dismembered old tickets that didn’t work, so they can get to work. The result of all this hullaballoo is that stored value tickets (fewer in numbers to begin with) were all used up in the morning, and huge crowds lined up for the few single-journey tickets available.
Where’s the Official Announcement?
The present situation is not entirely different from 2005. Frustrated and annoyed passengers rushing to their work to make money for this country and our public officials are forced to line up every morning for single-journey tickets. A suffocating volume of people fills up every breathing space in platforms just to get their hands on single journey tickets that get used up instantly. Passengers who are used to suffering inside the congested and poorly maintained trains and stations are made to suffer even more day after day, night after night just because the stored value ticket had vanished.
The ugliest fact in this is that the only answers passengers get from the MRT management about the disappearance of the stored value ticket are the hastily scribbled notes on typewriting paper taped on ticket booths: “Stored Value Tickets Temporarily Not Available” or “Wala pa pong Stored Value — SV.”
To the MRTC and DOTC: We know they’re gone. The question is WHY?
The MRT is operated by the Metro Rail Transit Corporation (MRTC), a private company operating in partnership with the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) under a Build-Lease-Transfer (BLT) agreement. This means that the MRT is partly owned by the government, and in fact, the National Development Corporation should have acquired roughly 80% of MTRC last October 2009.
While the MRTC is in chage of designing, constructing, testing, commissioning, and maintaining the MRT, it’s the DOTC that’s responsible for all administrative functions, such as the regulation of fares and operations.
As citizens who pay for the money the government uses to acquire the MRT, aren’t we entitled to know what the hell is going on in here? Don’t we deserve a simple, concise but sound and informative announcement on WHY there have been no stored value tickets for about three weeks in all stations? Don’t we deserve an explanation as to why we have to line up sweating and swearing for single journey tickets as many of us get late for our work and lose our money?
Apparently, the MRT management hasn’t thought of any of this. To them, we’re just paying buffoons who would ride their rattling junk everyday — official announcement or not.
A Conspiracy Theory
Since I have been kept in the dark regarding the mysterious disappearance of the stored value ticket, and the MRT management doesn’t seem to have any plans to tell me what’s cooking, no one can blame me for fashioning my own theory — a conspiracy theory — on why such a thing happened.
All of us know that the stored value ticket is precious compared to the single journey ticket because of two things (1) it saves us a lot of time because we only have to line up for it about once a week if you’re a regular passenger, and (2) it saves us money because we often get free rides with the spare amount left on the card.
Now, I could only see three possibilities why the stored value ticket’s existence was erased so suddenly. The first possibility is that, like in 2005, the MRT management has decided to replace the old stored value tickets with new ones. The reason for this could be the design (like in the precedent where Erap’s face was deemed unholy by the government) or the function (the tickets were somehow deemed to be poorly functioning). Of course, both these reasons are implausible since if the reason is the former, then they could just use the stored value tickets with the old designs for now and wait until the news ones have arrived before they take them off the shelves. The second one is even more difficult to believe because based on my long experience of the card, 98% of the time, it worked. Either way, if this is true, then we have reason to believe that single-journey tickets will be the next ones to be replaced, and a single-journey ticket shortage is upon us.
The second possibility is that there was a network-wide collapse of the stored value ticketing system such as never happened before in the entire MRT history. Some unexplained technical error made it impossible for the ticketing machines to program the “stored value amount” into the cards. It follows that these rusty, dirty-white machines curiously resembling regular cash registers must be connected in some advanced intelligent way with each other — so that a bug in one causes the downfall of others, like that massively destructive Y2K bug.
And then there’s the third possibility. According to it, the MRT management has figures detailing how much passengers save and how much they lose through the stored value ticket system. Those free rides available through the stored value tickets would be worth thousands every day if you add them all up. Why do we know this? While we don’t have any figures on just how much a regular day’s haul for the MRT management is, back in June 2009, when the MRT was exploring the possibility of cashing in on nighttime riders, they earned P134,000 from just 5,346 passengers who rode the train in its nighttime extension. Recent estimates put the number of passengers every day at 485,066. That means that every day, the MRT can generate an astounding P12 million if my clunky arithmetic is right on the money.
Even a small percentage of P12 million would help someone get to somewhere a lot easier.
What if, the MRT management somehow needed extra cash, so they deliberately pulled out the stored value tickets from their grimy booths, thus forcing everyone to buy single-journey tickets. The extra cash generated from everyone losing their “free ride” privileges can then be used for another purpose.
What if that purpose is to fuel somebody or some party’s campaign for the 2010 national elections? A steady flow of thousands of dollars from the MRT that can be easily reported in writing as a technical necessity can push a campaign quite far. Imagine how many stickers and posters that money can print, how many white envelopes it can fill.
What if the stored value ticket was gagged, kidnapped, locked in a dingy room somewhere, then raped again and again — for someone’s national campaign?
Closing Remarks: The Wonder Train
The MRT is a Wonder Train because it’s a wonder how we can endure it. Like many of the Filipinos who tear each other’s flesh and shoes every day just to get inside the MRT, I loathe the whole thing but I can’t seem to do anything about it. It eludes me why the main train of the Filipino civilization, the one foreigners from around the world see every day, is as beautiful as a toilet full of dung. My brain cannot comprehend how the government can bear to show this dirt shack to the rest of the world like it’s a gem of an achievement. MRT stations are perhaps some of the dirtiest places in the Philippines, not wholly different from the sewers. Every corner of every MRT platform is chock-full of soot and bacteria that God save the child who regularly inhales the musty air inside it. Ventilation is poor and the bathrooms are stinkier than Philippine politics, which is quite an achievement. Platforms are secure too, since guards make it a point to make a nanosecond peek at your bag before you’re allowed to step inside them.
And the trains? There are so many of them people turn into Sauron’s Uruk-hai when their doors open. We kill each other for seats and spaces to stand on. A couple of them have ventilation on par with the trains the Germans used to transfer Jews to extermination camps. Hell, we look like these poor Jews, too, gasping for air in these trains that are regularly late and dysfunctional.
“Pakiusap lang po, ‘wag nating pigilian ang pintuan. ‘Pag nasira yan kayo din ang maaabala,” warned the driver. Well, we don’t have much choice, do we? The MRT has turned us into monsters, and as monsters we’ll tear these trains apart if we have to — just so we can go to work on time.