Senators urge DOTr to give commuters free access to EDSA Busway beep cards

Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade on Friday vowed to address issues and reduce the cost of the stored value "Beep" cards for commuting.

During the Senate finance subcommittee K's deliberation of the DOTR's proposed 2021 budget, senators raised complaints about the Beep cards being required for passengers in the EDSA Busway in a bid to reduce contact and curb the spread of COVID-19.

While lauding the DOTr for its effort to implement cashless payments, they questioned the need to shell out P180 to purchase the Beep cards. Of the amount, P80 is for the cost of the card itself, while P100 is for the load to ride the buses.

"I appreciate the efforts made for inter-operability of the different modalities by the Department and they deserve the credit for that but hopefully we could further push the envelope for consumer convenience. Dahil sa panahon ng pandemiya ang daming naghihirap," Senator Juan Edgardo Angara told DOTr officials in the hybrid hearing.

Senator Grace Poe echoed this: "Baka pwedeng babaan (nang) konti ang minimum amount required imbes na P180 (Maybe we could reduce the required minimum amount a bit instead of P180."

Tugade, in response, explained that the DOTr did not choose the suppliers of the Beep cards but the bus operator consortium they tapped for the resumption of public transport operations.

"Kung maaalala po ninyo, akin pong iminungkahi sa mga service provider na kung saan sana ho doon sa card na tinatawag, huwag na silang maningil lalo't higit kung meron nang load (If will recall, I suggested to the service providers that they do not charge for the card itself if it already has a load)," Tugade said.

"Meron hong mga abiso o notices na lumalabas na nagsasabi na magbayad ng P80 ‘pag walang load at P30 ‘pag may load (There were announcements or notices that one will pay P80 if the card has no load and P30 if it has load). Hindi ko ho maintindihan 'yan dapat ho, ang card use po, ang akin pong hangad ay libre lalo't higit na maglo-load ka (I don't understand that because for me, card use should be free). Hindi ka naman kukuha ng card kung 'di ka maglo-load (You will not buy a card anyway if you will not load it up)," he added.

Tugade said he met road sector officials to push that the cards be made free of charge in their rollout of the cashless payment system in the EDSA Busway.

Aside from the high cost of the Beep card, Senator Nancy Binay also asked for the removal of the requirement to maintain a balance of at least P65 in the card.

"Para sa mga minimum wage earners natin napakalaki nitong P65 at alam naman natin ngayon COVID ay halos nabubuhay lang tayo on a day-to-day basis (For our minimum wage earners, P65 is too hefty, and we all know that in this time of pandemic, we are living on a day-to-day basis)," she said.

The DOTr explained that the automated fare collection system provider set the minimum amount of P60 to address instances wherein commuters end up having insufficient load to pay for the bus ride. Bus fare from Monumento to the Paranaque Intergrated Terminal Exchange is P56.

Tugade said the P5 is for "convenience fee", which he also questioned.

"Pinapatanggal ko po 'yan, kasi meron din ho akong nabalitaan na hindi resibado 'yong P5 convenience fee (I also wanted it removed, because I heard reports that they don't issue receipts for this P5 convenience fee)," he said.

Senator Ralph Recto said the Beep cards should be given for free to commuters, saying both the government and the private sector "can easily afford" its cost at P80 million.

"Government is readying billions of pesos to help distressed corporations owned by the rich. The cost of a subsidized Beep card for the poor is just a small blip on the spending radar," Recto said, citing the billions of funds allocated to the DOTr.

"Kaya baka naman pwedeng ibalik ang katiting ng kanilang ibinigay para matustusan ang Beep cards na gagamitin ng mga commuters," he appealed.

"The best option is for the corporation that issues it to give it for free, or make it free until the end of the year or of the pandemic. It is the best CSR of a corporation which has in its genes the tradition of solidarity and compassion which are again on full display during these perilous times," he added.

Asked by Recto, Tugade vowed to address the issue on the Beep cards within five days.

Binay also urged the DOTr to initiate an information drive to increase awareness and address the confusion of the commuting public on its cashless payment system.