As pump prices continue to rise, it’s no surprise how the public transport sector continues to clamor for solutions from the government. While we do understand the plight of operators and drivers of public utility vehicles, what some of us may not realize is exactly just how hard the sector has been hit throughout this global crisis.
In a recent Senate hearing, Provincial Bus Operators’ Association of the Philippines executive director Alex Yague laid out some numbers to the Committee on Energy. Yague said that in Luzon, there are approximately 10,000 provincial buses and around 8,000 of which enter Metro Manila. Only 20-30% of those are currently operating—more or less 5,600 buses—and as a result, about 26,000 employees have been displaced.
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“Sa provincial buses, hindi lang po driver. Meron pa pong konduktor, meron pa pong mga allied workers na nagta-trabaho sa terminal. Mga dispatcher, terminal ticket-sellers, pati mekaniko na mine-maintain namin,” said Yague. “Meron po kaming mga four to five employees per bus na kailangan namin i-maintain.” He also cited several factors that add to the rising fuel prices, such as the recent toll-fee increases that heavily affect provincial buses.
Yague proposed to the Senate two routes the government can take: revenue increases or non-revenue solutions. The first is simple and only involves fare increases to be approved by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). The latter is a bit more complex but does not involve massive fare increases, and as such will also alleviate the impact for commuters.
One non-revenue solution Yague proposed is for the LTFRB and the government to allow provincial buses to use their terminals in Metro Manila. This will reduce the “non-revenue kilometers” between integrated terminals and the designated garages of provincial buses. “Pagdating ho namin sa integrated terminals, nagkakaroon ho kami ng non-revenue kilometers,” mentioned Yague. “Pupunta po kami sa garahe namin para linising at ayusin yung bus, tapos babalik kami sa terminal para magsakay ng mga pasahero.”
Another solution proposed was the review of the registration and supervision fees, along with the the insurance premium, of provincial buses. The way it works right now is that even if only a fraction of a franchise’s total fleet is on the road, operators still have to register 100% of their fleets, and this includes payment of the aforementioned fees and premiums for vehicles that generate zero revenue.
A third solution is to review the Department of Transportation’s (DOTr) PUV modernization program (PUVMP). Under the PUVMP, buses—regardless of build or quality—should be disposed of after 15 years. Yague said that this should be reviewed seeing as other buses, such as those built in Europe, are usually of higher quality than other units and are often still properly functional after 15 years. Instead of the age of units, Yague suggested it should be their roadworthiness that should be checked.
The Senate Committee gave no concrete response to this yet, but it did mention the other proposed solutions amid the rising fuel prices. This included the Pantawid Pasada program, the suspension of fuel excises taxes, and the increase of biofuel blends.