FREE RIDES. Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte (3rd from left) and Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista (2nd from left) inside one of buses of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) that will provide free rides to the public during the program's launch at the Paranaque Integrated Terminal Exchange (PITX) on Aug. 3, 2022. To date, the Department of Transportation has failed to secure funding to continue the free ride program in 2023 but is eyeing a collaboration with the OVP for a similar program. (PNA photo by Avito Dalan)

MANILA – The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is eyeing a continued partnership with the Office of the Vice President (OVP) to continue its ‘Libreng Sakay (free ride)’ program after no funds were allocated for the program in the 2023 proposed national budget.

In a statement on Wednesday, DOTr Secretary Jaime Bautista said the free ride program provided “transport relief” during the pandemic but its long-term viability cannot be argued due to constraints in the national budget.

“We recognize that budget allocation for ‘Libreng Sakay’ is within the prerogative of DBM (Department of Budget and Management) in accordance with government’s fiscal priorities and with due approval from Congress,” Bautista said.

However, the DOTr chief said he is “more than willing” to collaborate with the OVP to continue its free ride program launched on August 3 with five buses to help commuters in Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao.

On Tuesday, DOTr Undersecretary for Road Transport and Infrastructure Mark Steven Pastor said the DOTr has proposed a PHP778 million budget for public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization in 2023 -- which includes funding for the free ride program -- but the proposal was rejected by the DBM.

On the other hand, the OVP has allotted PHP32.5 million for its free ride program. (PNA)