Free bus rides on EDSA hang

Elijah Felice Rosales - The Philippine Star
Free bus rides on EDSA hang
Commuters line up at the Carousel Bus Station along Main Avenue in Cubao, Quezon City on Saturday (July 2, 2022).
STAR / Ernie Penaredondo

MANILA, Philippines — The fate of the free bus rides along the EDSA carousel hangs in the balance as the government has yet to find funding sources for the P1.4 billion needed to sustain the “libreng sakay” program until the end of the year, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said yesterday.

Bautista said the Department of Transportation (DOTr) needs additional funds to continue the free bus rides on EDSA until December, as instructed by President Marcos.

“The libreng sakay program demands a certain funding,” Bautista said. “If we want to implement the free bus rides until December, we will need additional funding of around P1.4 billion, which is not available in our existing budget.”

The transport chief said he would ask the help of the President in finding funds for the program, which is one of the government’s solutions to lessen the impact of the surging cost of fuel and other basic goods on commuters.

Inflation, or the average increase in commodity prices, increased to 6.1 percent in June, the fastest in almost three years.

Marcos, on his first day in office, authorized the extension of free bus rides along EDSA until the end of 2022.

The DOTr proposed the extension and drafted a memorandum, which was approved by the President.

The memorandum also provides students with free rides on the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3), Light Rail Transit Line 2 and Philippine National Railways from Aug. 22 to Nov. 4.

However, the government stopped the free MRT rides that benefitted at least 29 million passengers during its three-month run from March 28 to June 30.

The DOTr discontinued the program after piling up revenue losses amounting to P515.91 million.

In-person classes

Meanwhile, Bautista said the DOTr is assessing how public transport can bear the rise in commuting demand when face-to-face classes resume in August.

One of the options the agency is looking at is the opening of additional routes for public utility vehicles to service more commuters, he said.

“We need to continue what we call the fleet rationalization. We have a group conducting a study on that. We will work with them to finish the study before face-to-face classes start,” the transport chief said.

According to the Department of Education, at least 38,000 schools nationwide are set to resume in-person classes for the incoming academic year.

Tricycle fuel subsidy

Meanwhile, Bautista said he ordered the release of P1,000 in fuel subsidies to 617,806 tricycle drivers qualified for government assistance.

He also directed transport officials to speed up the deployment of 550 buses along the EDSA carousel, especially during rush hours.

Bautista is scheduled to meet with the consortium operating the EDSA busway.

To address the looming demand for buses when in-person classes resume, he said he wants to speed up the grant of franchises to buses plying areas leading to schools.

“We are looking at accelerating the grant of franchises for buses on routes used by students such as Katipunan Avenue, Commonwealth and Recto,” Bautista said.

The government needs to address public transport woes before rolling out the resumption of full face-to-face classes, a commuter welfare group said.

In a statement, the Passenger Forum said infrastructure problems in urbanized areas render public transportation unprepared for the influx of students commuting to school once in-person classes resume. – Neil Jayson Servallos

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