Provincial bus ops far from 'normal', group says

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(CNN Philippines, January 8) — A provincial bus group on Friday belied reports that their operations were already "normalizing" as the government has only allowed "a fraction of bus operators" to ply routes, resulting in 15,000 job losses.

In a statement, the Provincial Bus Operators Association of the Philippines or PBOAP blamed this scenario on the transport authorities' policy of giving "special permits."

"This pernicious policy of the LTFRB led to several routes without any bus operations," the group said, refering to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board. "Without legitimate buses around, colorum vans and buses take over."

On December 17, the LTFRB through Memorandum Circular 2020-082 allowed 269 provincial P2P or point-to-point public utility buses to service 10 routes starting December 21. Five more routes were opened last December 24, with 440 provincial buses servicing them.

Sought for data, the LTFRB said Thursday there are 1,803 public utility buses or PUBs on routes entering Metro Manila during the general community quarantine, noting the figure includes provincial and point-to-point buses.

Before COVID-19 hit the country, PUBs entering the capital were at 8,136, as of February.

Aside from questioning the "special permit" policy of the transport authority and calling to open more routes, the bus operators group also urged the government to have a uniform travel requirement policy for commuters to avoid confusion.

PBOAP Executive Director Alex Yague said there was a "lack of uniformity in travel requirements" being implemented by local government units.

"Some LGUs require swab tests while others require PCR tests. Others require travel authorization while others do not," he said in the statement.

"Since our buses usually traverse several provinces that are within a contiguous area, some of our commuters who do not have the travel requirement for one province, are asked not to proceed. This must stop right now," Yague added.

The PBOAP is hoping the Department of the Interior and Local Government could study and iron out the issue.

The group said an estimated two million Filipino commuters failed to secure a trip back to their provinces last month.

Yague told CNN Philippines as the government continues to limit provincial buses' operations, thousands of Filipinos remain displaced.

"Buses are allowed to operate terminal to terminal, cashless ticketing and advance booking only," the transport leader said.

Yague added many of the displaced workers continue to be hit hard by the raging coronavirus pandemic, with little or no assistance from the government.

The government, under the Bayanihan To Recover As One Act o Bayanihan 2, rolled out a cash subsidy program for public utility vehicle (PUV) operators, providing ₱6,500 per unit.

"Some operators reported receiving the cash subsidy although some reported that they have not received the same," he said.

"As to the bus drivers, drivers who attended the LTFRB's drivers academy seminars received cash assistance but most drivers, conductors, other staff and personnel did not receive any assistance," Yague added.

The LTFRB, in a statement released on December 4, said about ₱802 million direct cash subsidy was given to PUV operators, which translated to 87.52 percent disbursement rate.