The most pressing problem today, Governor Joseph Cua said, is the high fares being charged by public transports like buses, vans and tricycles.
However, he said that the responsibility for approving new fare rates lie with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) in case of four-wheeled transports and the municipal governments for for-hire tricycles.
During a briefing with members of the Catanduanes Island Media Club (CIMC) last Friday at his officer, the provincial chief executive bared that he learned only lately that the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulation Board (LTFRB) has required all four-wheeled public transport operators to apply online for a special permit to operate during GCQ.
Local UV express operators complied with the application process but in the absence of an issued permit, enforcement officers of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) began apprehending vans plying the route from Bagamanoc to Virac.
The problem, Cua bared, was that the vehicles carried not only passengers but essential goods needed by the public.
He said he called the attention of the LTO officers, who reasoned that many complaints have reached the regional office.
Cua added that he talked with LTO assistant regional director Vince Nato, who told him that the same problem exists in other Bicol provinces as the LTFRB has yet to issue guidelines.
What was agreed upon was for LTO Virac to relax its enforcement and allow UV express vans to operate as long as they strictly observe social distancing and 50% passenger capacity.
Some commuters have appealed to LGUs to provide free transportation but the governor said this is difficult to implement for lack of funds.
Both the LTFRB and the local governments should approve new fare rates for the new normal, aside from the usual fares for ordinary times, he said.
The high cost of public transportation puts a huge dent on the limited salaries of government and private workers, Cua noted, with families likely forced to double their children’s allowances once classes resume.
In the strict implementation of social distancing, the design of jeepneys and tricycle drivers may have to be re-designed to adapt to the times, he said.
An association of tricycle operators and drivers in Virac has suggested that plastic partitions be utilized to allow the three-wheeled vehicles to accept at least two more passengers and thus lower the fares.
There will be a fare adjustment with regards to the ferries plying the Catanduanes-Tabaco route along with bus fares for overland routes to and from the metropolis.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Virac Tricycle Operators and Drivers’ Association (FEDVITODA) in a letter sent on May 4 appealed to Virac mayor Sinforoso Sarmiento Jr. to adjust fares considering the difficulty of meeting the “family’s daily subsistence,” while the limited capacity scheme is implemented.
“We fear that this predicament will just force the operator/driver to shut down its operation or even encourage some in blatant disregard of the said ordinance through “arkila” and the provision on “refusing to [convey] passenger” if ever they cannot arrive at an acceptable registered fare,” FEDVITODA president Arlyn Molina writes.
Molina added that the Virac LGU should “pass a measure adjusting the authorized fare,” “suspend temporarily the implementation of Municipal Ordinance No. 2019-01,” and “certify our appeal as URGENT for the Sangguniang Bayan.”
Local tricycle driver Angelo Francisco said that while he follows the current fare matrix, passengers add what they can to the fare.
“Sa sako sir, ta dai gapalarehas, sa sako, ang biga-sunod ko, ang taripa ko, na iyo an ang pamasahe ta mala iyo an taripa, dai man ning bago. Pero kung igwang ikahihilak, gadagdag na sana, ta mala salo na sana ang pasahero,” he said.
Another local driver echoed the same, adding that the fare depends on the negotiations between the driver and the passenger.
“Ta kung mag-abot sa, mag-normal na pan’o, biltada sa pamasahe talaga. Ta ang gaano kaan sakuya, presidente man ning mga TODA-TODA, ta […] man magpa-State pan’o, hari man nin State, pwede man magtao ning treynta, beynte, igwang gataong beynte, treynta. Dai man gapalarehas tao ninda [pasahero],” Larry Tabor said.
Passenger Mariza Patriarca Bautista noted that the price fare from Magnesia del Sur was originally P175, but bumped up to P350 during the General Community Quarantine.
“Eh syempre, wala kaming magawa, kaysa wala kaming [mabili]. Pero magabat, bawal naman kasi ‘yung [magsakay ng iba], eh gusto namin may mga kasama kaya lang wala talaga eh, bawal naman,”
The Sangguniang Bayan has said it would meet with barangay captains to discuss the issue but some councilors are reportedly inclined to let the tricycle operators and drivers to discuss the matter with their respective barangay councils so they could come up with an acceptable fare level for their specific routes.
The chairman of the Committee on Legislative Franchises, Councilor Reynante Bagadiong, has said that the existing fare ordinance cannot be suspended.
Negotiated fare levels under GCQ could be agreed upon by the tricycle groups with Mayor Sarmiento who could then issue an executive order but the latter insists that the council should craft a new fare ordinance that would adapt to the “new normal.”
The local chief executive believes that the present regulations limiting transport passenger capacity would continue beyond the lifting of the community quarantine as long as no vaccine is developed against the coronavirus disease.