(File photo)

MANILA – A lawmaker on Thursday urged national government agencies to gather their savings to fund the Department of Transportation's (DOTr) “Libreng Sakay (free ride)” program after no funds were allocated for the program in the 2023 proposed national budget.

Quezon City Rep. Ralph Tulfo said the agencies could "do a bit of sacrifice" by giving up their 2022 savings to the general fund of the National Treasury so that the DOTr could get more funds to continue the service contracting program aimed at providing free rides to commuters and profit for public utility vehicle (PUV) operators and drivers.

Tulfo noted that the recent decision of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) on the new fare hikes for public utility jeepneys, buses, taxis, and ride-hailing applications to take effect next month would have a great impact on commuters.

"Sa isang iglap na desisyon ng LTFRB, malaking halaga agad ang nabawas mula sa ipinatupad na umento sa minimum wage at dagdag sa patuloy na epekto ng inflation sa pang-araw-araw na budget ng pamilyang Pilipino (In just a single decision made by the LTFRB, the daily budget of Filipino families would suffer huge losses despite the increase in minimum wage and this would be further compounded by the effects of inflation)," Tulfo said.

He said the “Libreng Sakay (free rides)” program at the Light Rail Transit Line 2 (LRT-2) is only limited to students and operations of the Edsa Bus Carousel are limited.

DOTr Secretary Jaime Bautista earlier 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 the government's fiscal priorities and with due approval from Congress,” Bautista said.

The DOTr chief said he is “more than willing” to collaborate with the Office of the Vice President (OVP) to continue its free ride program launched on Aug. 3 with five buses to help commuters in Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao.

DOTr Undersecretary for Road Transport and Infrastructure Mark Steven Pastor, meanwhile, said the DOTr has proposed a PHP778 million budget for public utility vehicle 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)