A lawmaker on Tuesday urged incoming President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to consider continuing the Libreng Sakay (Free Ride) transport program to help ease the economic woes of commuters reeling from the impact of spiraling fuel prices.
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte noted that jeepneys, transport network vehicle services (TNVS), and buses have already petitioned the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) for fare increases, which, when approved, could prove even more burdensome for commuters.
The Libreng Sakay program of public utility vehicles (PUVs) and Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) under the Duterte administration is scheduled to end simultaneously with President Duterte’s last day in office on June 30.
“I hope that the new administration of BBM would be able to find ways of continuing to fund the Libreng Sakay program even at least until the end of the year. With transport costs now eating up a large share of the overall inflation rate in Metro Manila alone, the Libreng Sakay would prove to be a big help in cushioning the impact of the fuel price shock on the commuting public,” Villafuerte said.
Villafuerte pointed out that in May, inflation accelerated to 4.9 percent, owing largely to the increase of the transport index at 14.6 percent, while the food and non-alcoholic beverage index grew 4.9 percent.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), transport with inflation rate rising to 13.8 percent in May 2022 from 12.3 percent in the previous month, contributed largely to the uptrend of inflation in the National Capital Region (NCR).
The LTFRB was given a P7-billion fund for the Libreng Sakay program from the national budget.
The agency said it spends at least P14 million a day to pay for the contracted PUVs that cater to the daily influx of passengers.
A total of 118 routes offering free rides ended last June 16. The program covered selected areas in Metro Manila and 14 other regions in the country.
According to reports quoting LTFRB Executive Director Kristina Cassion, the Libreng Sakay was supposed to be extended until December but the sheer number of passengers catered by the participating PUVs exhausted the funds for the project.
The development comes amid the looming decision of the LTFRB on the petitions of PUVs for a fare hike.
Jeepney drivers and operators are asking for a P4 to P5 increase in minimum fares while buses are asking for a P4 to P7 hike.
Villafuerte was principal author in the House of the 18th Congress of the Bayanihan to Heal as One (Bayanihan 1) and Bayanihan to Recover as One (Bayanihan 2) laws that provided, among others, for ayuda or subsidies for low-income families, displaced workers and other sectors adversely affected by the global economic standstill resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Villafuerte-authored Bayanihan 1 and 2 laws which provided P5,000 to P8,000 unemployment or involuntary separation assistance to seasonal, casual, contractual and probationary workers in certain sectors, including public transportation.