Politics

DoTr estimates P1.4B needed to extend free ride program until Dec.

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PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

THE TRANSPORTATION department said Monday that it will look into extending the government’s free ride program until the end of the year, adding that such an extension of the service will require additional funding of P1.4 billion.

“Kung itutuloy natin iyan (If we extend the program) until December, we will need additional budget of around P1.4 billion… Kung kailangan nating ituloy until Dec. 31 (If we need to continue offering free rides), we will ask for an additional budget from the Department of Budget and Management,” Transportation Secretary Jaime J. Bautista said during a Palace briefing.

“So hihingi po tayo ng tulong sa President para magkaroon ng ganiyang budget sa DoTr (We will ask the President for help to obtain the funding),” he added.

The free ride program was part of the third phase of the government’s service contracting program and ended on June 30, according to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

The first phase of the program was launched in November 2020 as authorized by the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, a stimulus package designed to help the economy recover from the pandemic.

The government allocated P5.58 billion for the first phase, which ran until September 2021. The second phase took in P3 billion from the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA). The third phase, which started in April 2022, received P7 billion from the 2022 GAA.

The program has benefited 203,639,626 passengers, the LTFRB said in a statement.

Participating in the service contracting process, in which vehicle operators are paid a guaranteed amount to ply their routes without charging fares, were 65,256 public utility vehicles (PUVs) servicing 4,461 routes.

The LTFRB added that more than 2,000 PUV groups, including corporations and cooperatives, benefited from the initiative.

The Transportation department has said that President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. recently approved a memorandum seeking to extend the free EDSA Carousel bus rides and provide free rides for students using the MRT-3, LRT-2, and Philippine National railways (PNR) commuter lines when in-person classes resume in August.

The extended Free EDSA Carousel bus rides will run until December, the DoTr said in a statement.

“Considering the welfare of students, however, whose learning outcomes have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, the undersigned recommends implementing a Libreng Sakay for Students Program for the First Quarter of School Year 2022-2023, or from 22 August 2022 to 04 November 2022.  The Libreng Sakay for students will be implemented in MRT-3,  LRT-2, and PNR,” the DoTr said in the memorandum, as approved by the President.

The Education department estimates that more than 38,000 schools are set to return to physical classes for the 2022-2023 school year.

The Passenger Forum (TPF), a transport advocacy, warned at the weekend that the current situation of public transportation in Metro Manila is not yet ready for a shift to face-to-face classes.

“The government should be wary of the additional demands on our already heavily-burdened public transport system,” it said in a statement.

“This problem needs to be addressed for us to successfully phase back into normal classroom-based education.”

The DoTr’s Mr. Bautista said various agencies, including the Education department, will work together to ensure face-to-face classes resume with minimal transport disruption.

In a separate statement issued late Monday, Mr. Bautista said he will meet with the bus consortium operating the EDSA Carousel route and other government agencies to ensure sufficient bus capacity to accommodate increased passenger demand resulting from face-to-face classes.

“We are also looking at accelerating the grant of franchise instead of just permits for buses on critical routes used by students such as Katipunan, Commonwealth, and Recto Avenue,” he added.

The DoTr said Mr. Bautista has ordered the immediate release of the P1,000 fuel subsidy for 617,806 qualified tricycle driver-beneficiaries, the deployment of 550 buses on the EDSA Busway especially during rush hours, and the provision of a subsidy for down payments to acquire modern PUVs under the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program — Arjay L. Balinbin