Free rides, service contracting to resume for 3-4 months with 2021 budget - LTFRB

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 7) — The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) said it is waiting for the release of some ₱3 billion from its 2021 budget to restart the government's service contracting and "Libreng Sakay" programs.

It's been a week since these projects were suspended following the expiration of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act. The law allotted a total of ₱5.58 billion for the public transport programs, but only ₱2.17 billion were obligated. Of this amount, ₱1.9 billion have been disbursed.

"We are awaiting fund release for the ₱3 billion which is allocated under the General Appropriations Act for 2021 so that once we'll be able to get that money, we will resume the service contracting program," LTFRB chairman Martin Delgra said Wednesday during a Senate hearing on industries hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Delgra, however, admitted that the money - even if released soon - would not sustain the programs until year-end. When Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan pressed for a ballpark figure, Delgra said "probably about three to four months."

Pangilinan, one of the lawmakers who have been calling for the extension of Bayanihan 2, stressed the need for the remaining ₱3.5 billion from the law that earmarked a total of ₱165 billion for pandemic response and recovery.

"Pinakamaganda sana meron ka nang ₱3 billion tapos meron ka pang ₱3.5 billion on top of that para tuloy-tuloy at hindi na poproblemahin," Pangilinan said.

[Translation: It would be best if you have ₱3 billion and ₱3.5 billion on top of that so the projects will continue without problems.]

Most public utility vehicles continue to operate under limited seating capacity to ensure physical distancing and prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Under the service contracting program, the more than 49,000 drivers who have contracts with the LTFRB are entitled to a one-time payout of ₱4,000 and weekly payments per kilometer traveled, regardless of the number of passengers. It's a departure from the boundary system where the income of drivers and operators totally depend on the fares collected from passengers.

Under the "Libreng Sakay" program, the government compensates the drivers and operators to give free rides to the public.