100% DOTr budget hike for 2024 leaves out cyclists, pedestrians, commuters
MANILA, Philippines—As Congress was set to start deliberations on the 2024 budget, the transport advocacy group Move As One (MAO) Coalition urged the government to give pedestrians and cyclists “the highest priority” through a budget that will fulfill the needs of over 90 percent of Filipinos who do not own vehicles.
Based on the National Expenditure Program (NEP) for next year, the needs of millions of Filipinos, who rely on public and active transportation, got little or no attention with the budget for this likely to suffer a massive cut while the budget for improving public utility vehicles is getting zero.
MAO stressed in a statement that the cut in funds for active transportation, or that which relies on public systems, will “expose pedestrians and cyclists to the risk of injury and death due a road crash” while the zero budget for PUV modernization will “tip transport workers into even greater poverty.”
Here’s a look.
According to the 2024 NEP, which was prepared by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and approved by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and its attached agencies asked for P214.3 billion, almost double the P106 billion this year.
While the proposed P214.3 billion is really massive, the coalition pointed out on Tuesday (Aug. 8) that the budgets for active transportation and PUV modernization, even service contracting, which are road sector programs that are “crucial for filling the immense shortage in transport supply until 2030,” were slashed.
It said active transportation, PUV modernization, and service contracting programs were given P2.2 billion out of the P106 billion budget for the DOTr this year, but for 2024, only active transportation will have a share of the department’s budget at 1.2 percent. The rest—98.8 percent—will go to other DOTr programs to support the “Build Better More.”
Dr. Robert Siy Jr., transport economist and co-convenor of MAO, said “we are extremely disappointed at the NEP,” stressing that before the election, Marcos and his “UniTeam promised that it would incorporate bike lanes into roads.”
He pointed out that the public “grapples with a transport crisis now, and the coalition has said as much in every possible consultation on the proposed budget” for next year, saying that MAO is “gravely concerned” over the cuts in the budgets for active transportation and PUV modernization.
‘Build Better More’
It was explained by the DBM that most of the DOTr budget next year will be earmarked for the implementation of the government’s “Build Better More” infrastructure program, with some P176.4 billion expected to go to the department’s Public Sector Infrastructure budget.
The projects, the DBM said, include the North-South Commuter Railway System and the Metro Manila Subway Project Phase I under the Rail Transport Program, the Land Public Transportation Program, and the Aviation and Maritime Infrastructure Programs.
Most, or 76.4 percent of the proposed budget, would be received by the Rail Transport Program, while the Land Public Transportation Program would get P6.4 billion. Some P6.1 billion would be allocated for the Aviation Program, while the Maritime Infrastructure Program would get P988 million.
As stressed by Siy, despite the increase in the proposed DOTr budget, a massive chunk of it is expected to be spent mainly on two foreign-assisted rail projects. He said “while railways are part of the solution, they will still take many years before daily commuters can benefit from them.”
“When commuters come down from the train station, we walk, bike, or ride a jeep and tricycle. Yet we see no meaningful budget to make these modes more safe and reliable for the 94 percent of Filipinos who do not own private vehicles,” he said.
The coalition pointed out that the NEP disregarded the findings of nine Social Weather Stations surveys from May 2020 to April 2022 that “there are four bicycle owners to every car owner in the Philippines.”
Back in 2020, some 87 percent of Filipinos said they believe roads will be better off if public transportation, bicycles, and pedestrians are given priority over private vehicles.
Based on MAO’s analysis of the 2024 NEP, the budget for active transport infrastructure, such as bike lanes and better pedestrian walkways, was cut by P500 million from a high of P2 billion in 2022. This year, it only has P7 million.
The P500 million is way lower than the coalition’s proposal of P20.21 billion, which is enough to construct 3,900 kilometers of new bike lanes, upgrade existing bike lane networks with wider and better sidewalks, and provide 10,000 more bike racks all over the Philippines.
As seen in the NEP, MAO said “there is no budget at all for the PUV Modernization Program,” stressing that this implies a “complete disregard for the welfare of transport workers who have been demanding for a just transition in order to service everyday passengers.”
Looking back, it was in 2017 when the government launched the program, which has been criticized as it is expected to take a heavy toll on jeepney drivers who are only making do with their meager income even after driving for almost 12 hours a day.
Jaime Aguilar, a member of the National Confederation of Transport Workers Union, said “a PUV Modernization Program without funding is essentially a jeepney phaseout,” pointing out that “Marcos promised us that no driver would be rendered jobless, but the question now is why is there no budget, especially for equity subsidy?”
The coalition proposed P16.4 billion for the just transition for transport workers in the modernization program. The proposal, it said, is already enough to give 32,800 PUJ units an equity subsidy worth P500,000.
Service contracting, which is one of the key programs in improving public transportation, would also get zero budget.
MAO said “it is a crucial program that would enable public transport to remain financially viable while fares are kept affordable for commuters battered by high inflation.”
The PUV modernization and service contracting programs had P8.6 billion in 2020 and 2021, P8.8 billion in 2022, and P1.5 billion this year.