Long queues and a new fare collection scheme greeted commuters in bus terminals Thursday morning due to the fast-tracked implementation of cashless transactions on the EDSA Busway. Blue Beep cards replaced bank notes and loose change, much to the surprise of passengers who had to pay extra for a plastic card. But why the extra charge, and who chose this new system of collecting bus fares?
"PUV (public utility vehicle) operator po ang namili o nagdesisyon kung anong automatic fare collection system and gagamit nila para sa kanilang operasyon," Transport Usec. Hope Libiran said.
When the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board released guidelines, all it stated was buses had to implement cashless transactions to protect the health of commuters during the pandemic. It was up to operators to choose a system that could work for their operations.
This was the reason why some PUVs use Gcash, Paymaya, Squidpay, or other QR codes to collect fares, she said.
According to the Mega Manila Consortium, the operator of the EDSA Busway, they chose Beep since this was already being used for the MRT and LRT.
Paying for the Beep card
Beep cards were never free. Train riders had to pay P50 to get one, but P20 of that was subsidized by the MRT or LRT. This system dates back to the previous administration, where the signed concession agreement covered a part of the cost, Libiran explained.
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DOTr pushes for free Beep cards
With the pandemic dealing heavy financial blows on Filipinos, paying an additional P50 on top of the usual fare would burden commuters further. Transport secretary Arthur Tugade then ordered for Beep cards to be free, with other DOTr officials agreeing commuters should be spared from having to pay the extra cost of a Beep card in order to make the cashless system work.
"Sila na nga itong pinakatinamaan ng pandemya eh, pagbabayrin niyo pa? (They're the ones most affected by the pandemic, and you'll make them pay more?)" Tugade said.
Libiran said the DOTr is in talks with the Mega Manila Consortium and AF Payments, Inc. in order to find a solution. They are yet to react to the DOTr calls for free Beep cards.
The LTFRB is set to issue a Memorandum Circular ordering PUV operators to exempt commuters from shouldering the costs of their chosen fare collection system, she added. Load or fare should be the only thing the passenger pays for.