Ahead of return to schools, students to get free rides on LRT-2

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Ahead of return to schools, students to get free rides on LRT-2

MANILA, Philippines — With the return to face-to-face classes on the horizon, students trooping back to their schools will now enjoy free rides on the Light Rail Transit-Line 2, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced Tuesday. 

"What we have done is we will continue the Libreng Sakay, but we are going to stop the Libreng Sakay in MRT-3," Marcos said in his first press briefing as chief executive Tuesday afternoon. 

"Libreng Sakay continues as is, that continues. But what we are going to do is we are going to do a program for students because if they come in, we will fully subsidize first their pamasahe. We'll phase it out because we cannot afford to keep that going, but students will ride for free on LRT-2." 

In the same presser, Marcos said that Vice President Sara Duterte — concurrently education secretary — proposed holding full face-to-face classes by November.

The east-to-west LRT-2 line cuts through the University Belt in Manila City along with the student-heavy Katipunan Avenue near Diliman, Quezon City. 

This comes after Marcos also opted to extend the Libreng Sakay program along the EDSA Busway, which runs from Monumento to Parañaque, until December of this year.

"Considering the availability of budget for Service Contracting under [General Appropriations Act] 2022, the undersigned recommends the continuation of the Libreng Sakay Program for all passengers of the ESDA Bus Carousel," the Department of Transportation memo sent to reporters read.

Free rides not a panacea — transport advocates

The Transportation Department said that the extension of free rides is projected to “ease the burden of rising living expenses on Filipino families and help them save money” amid the skyrocketing prices of fuel and basic commodities.

But commuter advocacy network The Passenger Forum said that while free rides were welcome for poor families that rely on public transportation, the program does little to address the complex transportation problems hounding Metro Manila's thoroughfares. 

"Dapat hindi lang natin iniisip yung binabayad ng mga pasahero ‘no. It is welcome to a lot of passengers kasi siyempre, aside from bumabagsak na yung ekonomiya, for the longest time, malaking parte ng kanilang budget pumupunta sa pamasahe," TPF convenor Primo Morillo told Philstar.com in a phone call. 

(We shouldn’t just think about what passengers pay, right? It is welcome to a lot of passengers because of course, aside from the collapsing economy, for the longest time, a large part of their budget goes to fares.)

"If we're talking about sustainability, we should be using our funds to fix our public transport...how can we make waiting and travel time faster? How can we make public commuting easier?" he also said in Filipino.  

The Passenger Forum has long been warning of another "shock" in the ongoing commuter crisis once student-commuters boost the already-overwhelming demand for transport supply on the roads. 

There's also the matter of funding. LTFRB executive director Tina Cassion disclosed earlier over Laging Handa that the LTFRB's funds had been "exhausted" after spending P10 million per day under the Libreng Sakay program, which was supposed to end by June 30. 

In an interview, the Move as One transport coalition told Philstar.com that while Libreng Sakay does benefit commuters, increasing transport capacity should be a more immediate need than alleviating transport costs amid the fuel crisis. 

"In the experience of the EDSA Busway, we need to also look at the potential of expanding dedicated lanes for public transport to other routes, and to other major corridors," transport economist Robert Siy, Move as One co-convenor said in a Zoom call. 

"Because when we give a dedicated lane for buses or jeepneys, we enable them to deliver more round trips, within the same time period, they can operate faster, they can have more round trips, and when they have more round trips, they can carry more passengers. And that is one way we also increase the capacity of our transportation system."

Fuel subsidy now for trikes, too

Marcos also said that his government will expand the fuel subsidy for PUV drivers to include tricycle drivers.

But the payout of fuel subsidies has long been sluggish, and transport group Manibela called on the new administration to instead finally allow all four-wheeled public utility vehicles to ply their routes after thousands were shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

"Kaya tinatangkilik ang e-trike dahil sa kakulangan ng PUVs na hindi padin napapayagan at iniba ang mga ruta. Kaya nakasilip ng pagkakataon ang mga gusto mag byahe ng e-trike na hindi naman design pang pasada lalo sa mga major roads," Mar Valbuena, Manibela chair told Philstar.com in a text message Tuesday. 

(The e-trike is being patronized because of the lack of PUVs that are still not allowed and that have different routes now. So those who want to travel do so by taking the opportunity with the e-trike even if it is not designed to ride especially on major roads.)

"Public transport is an essential service, if people cannot travel around our cities, then they cannot access social services, they cannot get to jobs, they cannot get to schools. We have, in a way a breakdown of our economy and a breakdown of our social services, if we don't have a functioning public transport system," Siy also said. 

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