Loss of 'Bayanihan 2' service contract funds seen to raise costs for commuters

Loss of 'Bayanihan 2' service contract funds seen to raise costs for commuters
Photo release shows operatives of the PNP-Highway Patrol Group and the Inter-Agency Council for Traffic implementing random checks of coronavirus protocols in public transportation.
Inter-Agency Council for Traffic on Facebook

MANILA, Philippines —  Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Friday warned that millions of Filipinos may soon have to deal with higher commuting costs, as fewer jeeps and buses are expected to roam the streets after the expiration of funds for service contracting with the public transport sector under Bayanihan 2. 

The Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 expired on Wednesday with P9 billion in funds still unused. Malacañang dismissed calls for its extension, noting that the funds would likely be spent on the government's pandemic response. 

Of Bayanihan 2's P165.5 billion funds, P5.58 billion was allocated for service contracting with the public transportation sector which has been badly hit by the pandemic, Hontiveros said.

The program was intended to protect the income of drivers and operators and give them steady pay and the senator warned that its termination, piling onto challenges such as reduced passenger capacity, shorter routes, and other pandemic-related restrictions, will compel them to stop plying their routes altogether. 

"The temporary suspension of the 'Free Ride' program is not the only effect of the loss of billions of pesos in funds for service contracting," Hontiveros said in a statement written in Filipino. 

"If the Department of Transportation and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board do not act immediately, commuters' expenses will also suddenly increase due to the lack of jeeps and buses on the streets." 

With fewer jeepneys and buses on the road, Hontiveros predicted that commuters will likely have to switch to taxis, tricycles or transport vehicle network service (TNVS), significantly increasing their expenses, especially during rush hour. 

"That is a double burden on the people now that many are unemployed and prices are high," she said. 

DOTr, LTFRB told: Seek additional funding, fix service contracting program 

Once the P3 billion allocated to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board to continue the service contracting program has been obligated, Hontiveros said the agency along with the Department of Transportation should seek the release of 2021 augmentation funds for the program from the Department of Budget and Management. 

She also urged the agencies to partner with local government units to co-finance service contracting agreements to match or even exceed P5.58 billion previously allocated under Bayanihan 2.

At the same time, Hontiveros said, the agencies should address major issues which have negatively affected the efficiency of the service contracting program, which she said included lengthy and complicated requirements, poor guidelines in relation to routes, and slow disbursement of payments to drivers and operators.

"The DOTr and LTFRB can do a lot to continue and expand the service contracting program, which will greatly help not only drivers, conductors, mechanics and operators, but also commuters in this pandemic," Hontiveros said.

"[H]opefully, they will act quickly to avoid inconvenience to our countrymen." — Bella Perez-Rubio

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