‘Libreng sakay’ forever? Not long-term transport solution, says commuters’ group

Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 05 2022 09:34 PM

MANILA — Despite its good intentions and positive response from the riding public, the “libreng sakay” or free-ride program of the government should not be made permanent, a commuters’ advocacy group said Sunday. 

Elvira Medina, chairperson of the National Center for Commuter Safety and Protection told ABS-CBN News the scheme, while a relief to many, remains a consolation for the woes commuters experienced, or for some, continue to experience in public transportation.

“Give to the people what is due to the people,” Medina said in a phone interview. 

“Bigyan po natin hindi po dole out, hindi ‘yong palimos. Hindi po natin kailangan ng pampalubag-loob, ang kailangan po natin ay permanenteng solusyon.”

(Let us give them not dole outs or alms. We do not need small rewards. What we need are permanent solutions.)

Commuters in Metro Manila can currently avail of free rides at the MRT-3 train line along EDSA and the bus carousel plying the same route.

The rides, which have been in place for at least 2 months, are set to end on June 30, the last day of the Duterte administration.

Rather than extending the “libreng sakay”, authorities should instead spend more public funds on improving public transportation, Medina said.

She said the local transport system must pivot to benefit commuters more, being 80 percent of road users, rather than private motorists who are mostly concerned about traffic. 

The MRT-3 free rides were launched in part to help increase use of the train line following its rehabilitation and addition of train wagons.

On June 3, daily ridership on the train reached 368,565—the highest count for the line since reopening under the pandemic in June 2020.

‘PWEDENG FOR LIFE NA LANG?’

Many commuters availing the free rides touted savings as their biggest benefit.

For workers traveling daily, some get to save at least P100 or more a day.

“Hindi ba pwedeng for life na lang? Kasi mas convenient saka tulong na sa mga commuters,“ said Cecille Manabat, who uses the MRT to return with her children to Rizal from Caloocan on weekends.

(Can’t the free rides just stay for life? It’s more convenient and helps out commuters.)

But store employee Criszel Ranuco, a daily bus carousel rider, accepts the scheme will inevitably end.

“Okay na rin ‘yon kasi kahit papaano, ‘di naman talaga habambuhay libre. Kahit papaano, nakatulong, kahit ilang buwan lang,” she said.

(It’s alright if it is ending because it won’t stay free for life. But at least it somehow helped us even for just a few months.) 

Like many others, Ranuco said she would still gladly patronize a long-term free-ride program.

Drivers and operators of public utility jeepneys said they consider the free rides as competition, with some lamenting low passenger numbers despite the easing of restrictions on travel and work.

But for transport authorities, the P7-billion free bus carousel funded by a P7-billion service contracting program benefits both commuters and the sector.

DEPENDING ON NEXT ADMINISTRATION

Extending the free-ride scheme for the MRT-3 would definitely need more money, officer-in-charge/general manager Michael Capati said.

“Free ride extension will depend on the policy of the next administration. Long term free rides needs additional funding from the government,” Capati said in a statement sent to ABS-CBN News.

Around P4.9 million a day has been spent to cover the cost of the free rides at the MRT-3, data provided by the train management showed.

In total, MRT-3 estimated P286,163,822 in revenue loss since the free-ride scheme began in March 28 until May 24.

“MRT3 will continue to maintain its facilities to be able to serve the public and make their lives comfortable,” Capati added.

“Hope the next administration of MRT3 will continue what we started.” 

President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has yet to announce his appointments to the DOTr and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

LTFRB chairman Martin Delgra, who is part of the DoTr’s road sector unit, said on Friday they are still studying how to make the free-ride scheme on the carousel more sustainable.

For now, he said, the program has a “value added” of providing for the operations and fuel expenses of drivers and operators working the carousel and directly benefitting commuters in the process. 

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