End of Libreng Sakay, continued fuel price hikes seen to cripple more drivers, commuters

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 22)— As the government's Libreng Sakay program ends in some areas, transport groups are worried about its impact on commuters and drivers who are dealing with consecutive fuel price hikes.

Ariel Inton, founder of Lawyers for Commuter Safety and Protection, told CNN Philippines' Balitaan on Wednesday that the government's free ride program in public utility vehicles (PUV) should be sustained as it benefited a lot of commuters during the pandemic.

He said not only will commuters have to again shell out money for their fare, they will also have to endure longer queues for their rides, since a lot of PUVs have also stopped operating due to the increasing pump prices of petroleum that has left drivers and operators with barely any income every day.

Inton said commuters do not mind the provisional ₱1 increase recently granted to public utility jeepneys as long as this would eventually guarantee more drivers plying their routes to accommodate commuters.

RELATED: LTFRB approves temporary ₱1 hike in jeepney fare 

"Iyon po bang increase in fare, may katumbas na increase in the number of units na papasada? Meron bang katumbas yan na mas magandang serbisyo? (Would the increase in fare be tantamount to an increase in the number of units that would operate? Would that also equate to better service?)" he asked.

Inton also called on the government to prepare to accommodate a higher number of commuters since the fuel price hikes have been prompting owners to ditch their private vehicles and rely on public transport instead.

Last June 16, a total of 118 public utility jeepney corporations and cooperatives which were part of the government's service contracting in the National Capital Region stopped operating, while 28 more are set to conclude their service by June 30, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board Executive Director Maria Kristina Cassion said in a public briefing on Wednesday.

General Manager John Paul Evaristo of Mandaluyong Transport Service Cooperative told CNN Philippines that two routes covered 30 of their units in the service contracting scheme, under which their drivers used to earn as much as ₱1,000 daily. But now, they only earn half of that.

Under the service contracting program, the government compensates some public utility vehicle operators and drivers to deliver free rides to commuters based on the number of kilometers traveled per week, whether they have passengers or not.

Cassion said the Libreng Sakay program had a ₱7-billion budget under the General Appropriations Act of 2022 which initially covered 500 units, but the government eventually faced a "triple surge" among units that enrolled.

The program, which also covers buses in the EDSA Busway Carousel and the Commonwealth Route 7 from Montalban to Quezon Avenue, concludes on July 31.

"Nasa 80% na kasi 'yung exhaustion ng ating fund at tinatayang mauubos na rin in the coming days kasi...we are paying ₱10 million per day sa Busway pa lang and then ₱14 million per day sa NCR," Cassion said. "Nagkakaroon talaga ng exhaustion and this is a nationwide program."

[Translation: About 80% of our funds have been exhausted and we see this further depleting in the coming days...we are paying ₱10 million per day for the Busway operation alone, and then ₱14 million per day for NCR jeepneys. There is really fund exhaustion and this is a nationwide program.]

The Department of Transportation earlier announced that free rides for the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 would only last until the end of the month.

The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte is set to conclude on June 30.

CNN Philippines' Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.