Government expands free rides to carousel buses

The government wants to implement the expanded “Libreng Sakay” (Free Ride) program by next month, even as it will resume free rides on the EDSA carousel bus line in Metro Manila next week, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) said Wednesday.

At the “Laging Handa” press briefing, LTFRB Executive Director Maria Kristina Cassion said they are just waiting for the actual downloading of funds allocated for the third tranche of the Service Contracting Program (SCP) to start the expanded free-ride rollout.

Around 44 million passengers benefitted from the servicing program, Cassion added.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) earlier said it released P7 billion to the Department of Transportation (DoTr) for the program’s implementation, and for the latter to include other public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers and operators, including jeepneys and UV Express units.

“We are hoping that our SCP, where the ‘Free Ride’ program is enclosed, will start as soon as possible,” Cassion said.

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Meanwhile, a party-list lawmaker on Wednesday urged the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) and the Philippine National Railways (PNR) to also offer free rail rides to reduce transportation costs for commuters amid the high oil prices.

‘SAKAY NA.’ Duterte said for one month, from March 28 to April 30, commuters can enjoy free MRT-3 rides in a bid to encourage public transportation use amid spiraling oil prices. Manny Palmero

This was after President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Tuesday announced the Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3) will offer free rides from March 28 to April 30, following the successful completion of the rail system’s massive and comprehensive rehabilitation works.

‘SAKAY NA.’ President Rodrigo Duterte joins Japanese Ambassador Koshikawa Kazuhiko, Transportation Sec. Arthur Tugade, and Sen. Bong Go at the completion ceremony for the Japan-funded MRT-3 rehabilitation project. Manny Palmero

Also, around 115,000 drivers of public utility vehicles (PUV) have received their one-time P6,500 fuel subsidy from the government, Zona Russet Tamayo, regional director of the LTFRB-National Capital Region, said Wednesday.

“We’re just waiting for the downloading of the budget of the LTFRB and hopefully, at the soonest possible time in April we can start the SCP for this year,” Cassion added.

Under the SCP, operators and drivers who participate in the government’s free ridership program will receive a one-time payout of P4,000, and weekly payments based on kilometers traveled per week with or without passengers.

PUV operators will be contracted via an agreement based on a plan prepared by the LTFRB, as Cassion said the DoTr is expecting more drivers and operators to participate in the scheme this year after its successful turnouts in 2020 and 2021.

She also assured partners of adjusted payment rates in view of the rising fuel prices in the country.

“Because the operators have seen the positive implications of the program, we are expecting that more partners will join this year. If more drivers and operators participate, more passengers will benefit,” she said.

Commuters welcomed the announcement of the free rides on the EDSA carousel bus, saying it would be a big help for them, especially those earning the minimum wage.

In the same Laging Handa briefing, Tamayo said the P6,500 fuelassistance was distributed through cash cards provided by the Landbank of the Philippines (LBP).

“LBP continues its printing of cash cards to be distributed later to additional beneficiaries this year,” Tamayo said.

Among these additional beneficiaries are drivers and operators of a transport network vehicle service (TNVS) vehicle, UV Express, and tricycles.

The LTFRB will begin the distribution of cash cards to drivers and operators of TNVS and UV Express units beginning next week, Tamayo said.

For tricycle drivers and operators, she said the LTFRB would coordinate with the Department of the Interior and Local Government, as tricycles are under the mandate of local government units (LGU).

“Our talks with the DILG continue, so we can compile a list of beneficiaries among tricycle drivers,” Tamayo said.

The latest fuel subsidy of the government began distribution on March 15 through existing LBP cash cards issued through previous subsidy programs by the government.

BHW Party-list Representative Angelica Natasha Co said offering free rides is a targeted measure to cushion the impact of high fuel prices, as it will immediately benefit workers who commute by rail, including the health care front-liners and hospital workers.

“I reiterate my suggestion that the LRTA and PNR give their passengers free rides even if only for a limited period,” Co said in a statement.

She expressed gratitude to Duterte and Department of Transportation Secretary Art Tugade for the month-long MRT-3 free rides.

Tugade noted that train passengers can ride the MRT-3 free of charge in all its stations during the said dates.

He also stressed that this will greatly help ease the financial burden of the riding public, especially amid the inflation, rising fuel prices, and with many Filipino workers now returning to on-site work.

Co said these measures would convince motorists to keep their cars at home for some days so they could save on fuel, thus resulting in less traffic congestion.

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