Libreng Sakay: Encore!

Luxembourg was the first country in the world to scrap fares on all public transport in 2020. In October 2022, Malta became the second country in the world to make public transportation free. As of last year, more than 50 cities and towns in Europe have introduced free public transport, citing climate ambitions and social equality as their primary motivators.

Proponents of the revolutionary transport policy say waiving fares helps incentivize people toward mass transit and keeps cars off the road, lowering vehicle emissions and improving air quality in the process. There were more than 300,000 premature deaths attributed to air pollution in the European Union in 2019 alone, part of 4.2 million such fatalities around the world each year.

From cnbc.com: “Washington, D.C. is on the verge of eliminating bus fares for city residents, joining other US cities that are working to make metro bus and rail systems free to ride. Already, Boston, San Francisco and Denver are experimenting with zero fare. In late 2019, Kansas City, Missouri, became the first major US city to approve a fare-free public transit system.”

In our Editorial on September 30, 2022—Why government needs to fund Libreng Sakay program—we underscored the importance of the government’s free ride program, noting that scrapping it during these challenging times would be a disservice to the millions of Metro Manila workers who are the backbone of our economic recovery.

High inflation can push many people into poverty, and some pundits say poverty is the mother of crime. But studies have shown that crime is not driven by poverty alone, but rather by inequality. The more inequality there is, the more incentive for the poor to do something illegal in order to survive. In general, the more inequality there is, the harder it is to maintain peace and order in any place. As prices continue to spiral, the government can help alleviate the suffering of ordinary workers. One way to do this is to fund the Libreng Sakay program. This could be done temporarily, until the government succeeds in taming runaway inflation in the country.

The Marcos administration has shown its responsiveness to the needs of the citizens by heeding the growing call for government to continue its Libreng Sakay program amid soaring inflation. As of December 27, 2022, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board recorded a total of 164,966,373 passengers who have availed themselves of the Libreng Sakay program along Edsa last year.

The Department of Budget and Management on Thursday said the national government has allotted P1.285 billion to sustain the “Libreng Sakay” program this year. “We understand the plight of our commuting public. And so President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ R. Marcos Jr. gave us a directive to do our part, and to exert our best to help ease their burden. The Service Contracting program, which funds Libreng Sakay, is a big help,” DBM Secretary Amenah F. Pangandaman said (Read, “DBM allots P1.285B to sustain DOTr’s ‘Libreng Sakay’ in 2023,” in the BusinessMirror, January 13, 2023).

The DBM said the Department of Transportation’s Service Contracting program is well funded this year. The program, which gives way to the continuation of the Libreng Sakay, provides free bus rides for the public, including the bus commuters along Edsa. The DBM explained that the Libreng Sakay is a joint program of the DOTr and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board to help commuters amid rising prices of commodities and services.

Kudos to the Marcos administration for finding a way to fund the government’s Libreng Sakay program, which benefits about 5.8 million workers in Metro Manila. Giving free rides to these workers certainly helps ease the impact of high commodity prices. Neda said that minimum wage earners are the ones heavily affected by soaring inflation.

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