By Krixia Subingsubing, Inquirer News

Thousands of commuters rode for free on the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3 on Monday, the first day of the government’s monthlong no fare program aimed at boosting the overhead light train’s capacity by more than double its current average ridership.

The free rides, available from March 28 to April 30, will cover all MRT 3 trips between 4:40 a.m. and 10:10 p.m. The program was in line with the Department of Transportation’s (DOTr) efforts to help alleviate commuters’ expenses amid successive fuel price hikes and with the return of many companies to an office setup.

While several netizens are happy with the free ride program, some have criticized the long lines that have formed at train stations.

The DOTr expects the number of passengers to reach 300,000 to 400,000 daily, almost the same as pre-pandemic levels.

Four-car trains

MRT 3 officer in charge Michael Capati, however, said that the MRT 3 was now more capable of carrying that many passengers with the recent addition of two CKD trains that come with four cars.

The four-car train can accommodate 1,576 passengers or around 400 more compared to the three-car trains currently in use. The newest additions to the MRT 3 line will be dispatched during the peak hours of 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. to accommodate as many passengers as possible.

Throughout the monthlong free ride program, the MRT 3 will deploy at least 18 three-car trains, plus the two four-car trains.

Rehab completed

While the MRT 3 was expected to lose around P2.7 million in daily revenues due to the free rides, the amount would be offset by a P7-billion budget under the General Appropriations Act of 2022.

The free ride program was launched after the DOTr finally concluded the 26-monthlong, P21.9-billion rehabilitation of the 17-kilometer train line which included the replacement of all mainline tracks, the rehabilitation of the power and overhead catenary systems, and the upgrading of signaling systems.

So far, 48 out of the 72 CKD train cars have also been rehabilitated while the rest will be completed this year, according to Capati.

To avail themselves of the program, passengers need only to use their valid stored value or Beep cards to enter MRT 3 stations. No amount will be deducted from their cards. Those without Beep cards may get a single journey ticket from ticket booths but those who lose or damage the tickets would be charged P50 each, according to the MRT 3 management.

IN PHOTO: Commuters line up at the Metro Rail Transit-Line 3 at North Avenue Station in Quezon City on Monday to avail of the government’s monthlong free ride. —NIÑO JESUS ORBETA