Libreng Sakay Program Is Flawed and Should Be Scrapped, Transport Group Says

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The free ride (libreng sakay) program, which the government instituted to help commuters cope with the skyrocketing fuel prices, is “flawed” and should be scrapped, a transport group said Tuesday (June 14). 

In a 10-point agenda, members of the Move as One Coalition said officials should instead “adopt a proper service contracting program and speed up its implementation.” 

The group said the record increase in oil prices has launched the transport sector into a deadly spiral and that the incoming administration could stave off what it called a transport inflation through a series of initiatives. The transport sector is also seeing a “collapsing supply” due to the unsustainable spikes in oil prices and commuters are at the losing end as they are forced to queue for long periods only to ride crowded enclosed vehicles, it added.

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“The only sustainable way to address the sharp rise in transport prices and lower pressure on fare hikes is for the government to wean our economy’s dependence on oil,” Move as One said in its policy paper.

Besides scrapping the free ride program, the group said the government should invest in infrastructure to help people shift to walking and cycling, and increase transport supply by properly implementing service contracting to expand public transport supply. Officials ashould also provide strategic social support to the public transport sector, which has not yet recovered from the pandemic. 

In addition, Move as One said economic managers should prioritize active transport and road-based public transport options as this is the “fastest, most-effective, and the only sustainable way” to fight transport inflation. 

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To supplement the initiative, the coalition also advised the government to tap resources in the 2022 budget to rapidly expand the network of protected bike lanes, develop pedestrian infrastructure as well as open spaces and public parks and safe and accessible pathways. 

Other suggestions the group put forward include the provision of incentives to companies that encourage remote work arrangements to relieve the pressure on collapsing public transport supply; for the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to allow all public utility vehicle units to operate and authorize more vehicles on routes where operators have consolidated; for the two agencies to authorize more vehicles on routes where operators are consolidated or committed to working under common fleet management arrangements, and instituting exclusive lanes for public utility vehicles or giving them set hours to the exclusive use of such lanes. 

“The government can implement these PUV-only lanes today because the Department of Transportation has a special provision under the 2022 budget which requires 50 percent of road space to be allocated for walking, cycling, and public transport. With reduced motor vehicle use due to high fuel prices, the time is ripe for transforming road space for cars into space for the most efficient and sustainable travel modes,” the policy paper read. 

Instead of the libreng sakay program, the government should expand the number of public transport units and adopt a proper service contracting program and speed up its implementation. 

“A genuine service contracting program, as legislated under the 2022 budget, include the following provisions: greater involvement of local government units in collecting fares, micro-financing, and co-implementing the program; and the set-up of the multisectoral governance committee where civil society organizations can directly participate and give real-time feedback to ensure the program is used to improve service levels for commuters and minimum public health standard compliance to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” Move as One said.  

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The group also urged the government to give urgent social support for transport workers hit hard by the oil crisis and the pandemic, particularly tricycle drivers and operators, whose livelihood has also been disrupted by the skyrocketing prices of fuel.

Lastly, the government should also remember that the country is still reeling from a pandemic and that all public transport modes should follow standards to prevent the spread of Covid-19.  

“We look forward to working with the incoming economic team in our shared interest to fight transport inflation and to provide an equitable recovery for commuters, transport workers, and citizens, from Covid-19 and the oil crisis,” Move as One said. 

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