Common sense on common station

June 13, 2014
(The Philippine Star) June 13, 2014


I have no strong feelings on whether the LRT1/MRT 3 common station should be on the SM or Ayala Trinoma side of the tracks. To me, this is a technical issue best addressed by strictly technical considerations… or as is in this case, contractual obligation.

Unfortunately, the problem has been allowed to drag on for too long… the entire watch of P-Noy so far. It is a left over issue from the Arroyo administration. When it rushed the completion of the LRT1 extension to Trinoma, they left the issue of the common station hanging. They actually started construction, but inexplicably stopped.

Commuters from either the LRT 1 trains or the MRT 3 trains must go down and take a tricycle or walk a kilometer away, go up and take the rest of their rides on either system. It was ridiculous for DOTC to allow the situation to fester for so long.

When I asked Usec Timmy Limcaoco during one of the meetings of the Foundation for Economic Freedom about the status of the common station, he just smiled and said tough legal issues are involved. I couldn’t imagine why a DOTC manned by de campanilla lawyers couldn’t resolve legal problems. But that was almost four years ago and Mar Roxas was their boss… that explains everything.

When Jun Abaya took over, I remember asking him about the status of the common station and he couldn’t give me an answer either. He hinted that the Ayalas have an advantage without explaining why.

When I pointed out that SM had paid P200 million to have the common station on the SM side, Abaya said DOTC can always return the money. He didn’t say if DOTC will pay interest on the P200 million for the more than four years it slept in DOTC’s bank account. I doubt it. DOTC is likely to be unfair.

Indeed, I thought DOTC was being more than grossly unfair when it told a Pasay Regional Trial Court that the NEDA approval on the agreement with SM had lapsed. DOTC made it look like it was not even at fault. Wala lang. Basta nag lapsesorry na lang.

But it was not even SM’s fault that it lapsed, assuming it really did lapse. It was DOTC who dilly dallied on the implementation and now it is saying “sorry na lang it lapsed?” What stupidity is this? This is no way to run a government.

I sought the original documents of the deal and this is what I found… a perfected deal for which DOTC took SM’s money.

In part, the agreement said: “SECTION 3. Naming of the Common Station and Grant of Accessway. For and in consideration of SM’s funding of a portion of the cost of construction/civil works of the Common Station as provided for in this Agreement, the Common Station shall forever bear and include in its final name the phrase “SM North EDSA’ and the name of such other entities that may enter into similar agreements with LRTA in accordance with the instructions of the NEDA Board given during the 41st NEDA Board Meeting and the 30th Cabinet Meeting held at the Aguinaldo State Dining Room, Malacanang Palace.

“SM shall also be allowed to construct, maintain and operate a walkway/bridgeway on its own property which shall interconnect the common Station with the pertinent level of SM City North EDSA. It is hereby also agreed that the ownership, maintenance and operation of said walkway/ bridgeway shall always remain with SM.”

I can’t see what could be clearer than what DOTC agreed with SM, albeit with the previous administration. What would happen to our government if there is no continuity from one administration to another on commitments that do not have a taint of corruption?

Still, I consider this issue largely a technical one so I asked my favorite transportation expert who consults with ADB and governments in ASEAN. Here is his reply on the issue of the common station:

“The station at SM is the most logical, only if MRT-7 gets implemented. If it does not happen, then it has to be at Trinoma. However, the head-to-head solution is still wrong.

“If MRT-7 will not happen, the best solution is to continue MRT-3 all the way to Malabon and Navotas. This was the original master plan. No station at SM, no common station at Trinoma.

“The original mistake was for the north loop being made an extension of LRT-1 rather than MRT-3. Since DOTC has already announced buy-out of MRT-3, then it has no legal obstacle for extending its service all the way to Malabon.

“But it also announced that the MRT-7 will proceed as is; ergo, it has to build the common station at SM.

“The other sin (mistake) is for MRT-7 to end at North Avenue. It should extend all the way to Quiapo and end at CM Recto. That would be the Grand Central Station (for Line 1, Line 2, and MRT-7…”

I asked another transportation expert, who is also familiar with the project, how DOTC calculated the P1 billion savings it said it will make by moving the common station to Trinoma. This is his reply:

“By building a small Line 1 Terminal Station and using the MRT-3 rail track they save quite a bit of money. It will not serve the traveling public’s needs nor satisfy LRT Line 1 and MRT-3 requirements. MRTC will never agree either in my opinion; that’s why DOTC is looking at a slight shift towards Trinoma now.

“All DOTC looked at is the basic costs of the SM site (around P2,600M) and Trinoma site (P1,400M) stations. With the SM site they also get the P200M from SM plus P460M from MRT-7 savings which they will lose with using the Trinoma.

“The LRT-1, MRT-3 and MRT-7 lines are better served with the SM site. The Trinoma site does not help MRT-3 at all as North Avenue will remain crowded while the SM site does help in terms of headway and relieves the passenger crowding at North Ave Station… Shortest distances for passenger interchange between the three lines are at the SM site, not Trinoma!”

While the issue ought to be decided on the basis of technical and business considerations, it seems it got caught up in a current war between SM and Ayala which has intensified lately. We need to hear a coherent and convincing explanation from DOTC why they are favoring one over the other.

Without a compelling justification, there is a need to stick to a consummated contractual obligation. That seems common sense enough an approach for the common station.

 Solar pa-Ikot?

I guess Energy Secretary “Ikot” Petilla has to grasp at straws to make it look like he is doing something about the inadequate power supply situation in the country. He now wants to revise agreements on how much solar energy can be installed that will benefit from the so called Feed-in-tariff or FIT. The FIT is a fancy name for a consumer subsidy on whatever it is we are now paying for our electricity per kwh.

Sec Ikot supposedly wants to raise our solar power installation target under the Feed-in-Tariff scheme to 500 megawatts (MW) or 10 times the current 50MW. Sec Ikot is said to be justifying the increase to allow more solar power development to boost supply during summer when power supply gets tight and demand high. He is also rightfully worried about climate change which could mean long dry spells that could dry up hydropower plants.

But economists in the Foundation for Economic Freedom are not buying all that. They are particularly critical of the proposal to raise FIT to P15.22 per kilowatt hour (kwh) for solar power development projects. That almost doubles the previously agreed upon FIT of P 9.50.

It is also higher than China’s P7. The solar industry, however, points out that the P15.22/kwhwh is below the original filing of P17.95 requested in May 2011.

FEF, which is waiting for a decision on a case it filed against the FIT before the Court of Appeals, warned that the FIT the solar industry wants will imply an additional direct cost to consumers, already burdened by high power rates, of P12 billion a year for 20 years. It also does not count additional cost of connecting to the grid and backing up with more reliable diesel plants which is necessary for solar, a power source that is intermittent.

Oh well… we do need to have a significant solar presence in our energy mix. But the solar industry should also not be too greedy, FEF’s Romy Bernardo said. They should share the declining cost of solar installations with consumers. I think the FIT should decline over the years too as solar wafer prices decline further and the cost of solar energy becomes grid competitive and should no longer require a consumer subsidy.

But in this country, everyone with any influence wants a free lunch… at the public’s expense.