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Gov’t getting out of carousel bus service in 2023—DOTr

The government will privatize the operation of the EDSA Bus Carousel service by the first half of next year as free rides on the circuit will end on Jan. 1, 2023, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said on Wednesday.
NO LONGER FREE NEXT YEAR. Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista converses with a driver of an EDSA carousel bus during the launching of the newly-opened Tramo Station in Pasay City on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022. The government will privatize the operation of carousel service by the first half of next year as free rides end on Jan. 1, 2023. Danny Pata 

Bautista graced the opening of a new bus stop for the EDSA Bus Carousel at Tramo in Pasay City and said that privatizing the circuit’s operations is on the Department of Transportation’s wish list for 2023.

“We are planning to privatize the EDSA Busway and entertain proposals by first quarter of next year,” he said, adding the government planned to award the O&M (operation and maintenance) contract to the winning bidder within the first six months of 2023.

There are groups interested in the operations of the bus system along the busiest thoroughfare in Metro Manila, the DoTr chief said, but none have submitted proposals so far.

“We’re preparing the TOR (terms of reference). If we want this to be privatized, it will be done by the private sector, which will have to conform to international standards,” he said.

In September, Bautista ordered a study on the possible privatization of the EDSA Bus Carousel.

A joint undertaking of the DOTr, Metro Manila Development Authority and Department of Public Works and Highways, the EDSA Busway features the use of a dedicated median lane for buses with stations built at the median island, allowing for more efficient travel by avoiding conflict with connecting streets, driveways, commercial centers, and curbside drop-off points.

DOTr Undersecretary Mark Steven Pastor said the study aimed to determine the advantages in handing the busway system operations to the private sector.

The privatization needed study because it involves many components, such as bus units and infrastructures, which are under the jurisdiction of other agencies, Pastor added.

Asked if bus fares on the carousel would rise, he said it would be highly regulated and under the jurisdiction of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

The board still needs to release a fare matrix for the EDSA Bus Carousel, Pastor noted. Based on the previous rates charged by buses along the EDSA route, the fare is P13 for the first five kilometers, with an additional P2.20 for every succeeding kilometer.

The EDSA Carousel runs from Caloocan City in the north to the Paranaque Integrated Terminal Exchange (PITX) in the south with 21 bus stops — 17 median stations, four temporary curbside stations, and an integrated terminal exchange — and the Tramo stop as the latest addition.

The government has been offering free rides on the EDSA Bus Carousel under its “Libreng Sakay” program, which is set to end on December 31, 2022.

Under the program, the government taps buses to provide free rides to commuters. It pays around P10 million to P12 million daily to bus concessionaires to run 600 to 700 buses conveying about 400,000 passengers.

As much as the DoTr wanted to extend the free ride service, Bautista said they have budgetary constraints.

The Transport agency was given just P1.2 billion for the bus service contracting program, a tenth of the P12-billion budget it proposed for the free rides in the National Expenditure Program for 2023 submitted to Congress.

According to the DoTr, the EDSA Carousel busway has reduced the two-to-three-hour travel time for commuters from Pasay to Caloocan to an hour and a half.

Since 2020, when the Duterte administration rolled out the EDSA Bus Carousel at the height of the pandemic, the government has spent P551 million on the infrastructure of the busway.

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