FREE RIDE. Passengers board an Edsa Carousel bus that provides a free ride to commuters on July 2, 2022. Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista on Thursday (Aug. 4, 2022) assured that the “Libreng Sakay” (free ride) program would continue until Dec. 31, 2022. (PNA photo by Gil Calinga)

MANILA – Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista on Thursday assured the public that the “Libreng Sakay” (free ride) program along the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (Edsa) Busway will continue at least until December 31 this year.

In an interview during the launch of the new Roxas Boulevard Station of the Edsa Busway, Bautista said while funding for the project has yet to be released, he has spoken with Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Amenah Pangandaman who assured that the project’s budget is “ready”.

“Hinihintay na lang po natin yung fund allocation pero we were given assurance by the DBM Secretary. In fact, kausap ko po siya kagabi, and sinasabi niyang ready na yung pondo para dito (We are just waiting for fund allocation but we were assured by the DBM Secretary. In fact, I spoke with her last night and she said the budget for this is ready),” Bautista said.

He noted that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. himself is pushing for the continuance of the project to help commuters cope with their daily expenses, especially those affected by the pandemic.

“Pero kapag nag-normalize na po, ibabalik din po tayo sa dating pamamaraan. Maniningil na rin po ng pamasahe itong mga bus na ito. So, temporary lang po ito (But once things normalize, we will go back to the previous ways. These buses will start charging fares. So, this is just temporary),” he said.

To ensure the continued operation of the two consortia operating the buses along the Edsa Busway, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) has been working to accelerate the release of their payment, he said.

“Dun sa meeting namin, nasabi nila samin na bumibilis na raw ang pagbabayad ng LTFRB (In our meeting, the two consortia said the LTFRB is releasing their payment faster),” he said.

In a separate interview, LTFRB Chair Cheloy Garafil said the “self-imposed” deadline for payment to these two consortia has so far been met, with the delay now limited to two to three weeks.

To date, Garafil said the budget left for the free ride program would be used up by September 6, with PHP1.4 billion needed to continue the program until the end of December.

“We spend PHP10 (million) to PHP12 million a week sa ‘Libreng Sakay’ (for the free ride program),” she said.

With the proposed budget, she said, the LTFRB is eyeing the expansion of the free ride program to include other public transport routes in the country.

“Pina-finalize na namin within the week yung mga bagong ruta na io-open (We are finalizing within the week the new routes that will be opened). So, you'll know in the coming days. We still need to talk to Secretary Bautista about it,” Garafil said.

Earlier, Bautista, Garafil, and other government officials led the launch of two new Edsa Busway Stations – the Roxas Boulevard and Taft Avenue median stations.

To date, there are a total of 18 stops along the Busway, with 15 median stops and three stops along the outer lanes of Edsa. (PNA)