What’s Your Beep?

For older generation and some children who are familiar with television cartoons, the Road Runner is one character whose “beep, beep” chortles always frustrate the wily coyote at the end of a chase and the wizened bird lives on to run for another day. The play of words reminds me of how our local Department of Transportation (DOTr) is trying to push forward its program of Beep cards for use in EDSA public buses. The part of the wily coyote is played by the government agency which is trying to get a handle on the transportation conundrum that the COVID19 pandemic has impacted on us, Metro Manila residents and yet, unable to convince the public to accept the purported solution whole-heartedly nor convince public opinion that DOTr has come close to solving our transportation crisis. 

The Department of Transportation is enforcing, beginning October 1, the Beep cashless fare collection scheme on public utility buses, which ply the EDSA busway route. “Starting Thursday, 01 October 2020, the ‘No beep card, no ride’ policy will be implemented for passengers of the EDSA Busway System,” the DOTr said in a press statement. A Beep card is a stored value contactless card that can be used to pay fares in LRT-1, LRT-2, and MRT-3, and some point-to-point buses, as well as public utility vehicles. Fare is deducted from the card once it is tapped at a fare collection machine.

Commuters will be required to purchase Beep cards before they board buses which can be acquired in LRT and MRT-3 stations. The total cash out will be P180 — P80 for the card and P100 for the initial fare load. The beep card is valid for four years. Commuters can reload their beep cards in LRT and MRT-3 stations, FamilyMart and Ministop branches, outlets of Bayad Center and their affiliates, or other loading partners such as BPI, Unibank, etc. According to the agency, the initiative is seen to minimize physical contact between commuters and public transport personnel to reduce their risk of getting coronavirus disease. “The move will also pave the way for more seamless and faster transactions, as it will improve waiting time and trim down queuing of passengers,” it added.

But then public reactions have been somewhat anemic and even hostile. Various groups raised their concerns over the government’s “No beep card, no ride policy” after the DoTr enforced a cashless automatic fare collection scheme on EDSA busways. In a statement, spokesperson of labor group Defend Jobs Philippines Christian Lloyd Magsoy criticized the policy as a money-making scheme. “Instead of aiding our workers and people in providing [an] affordable and accessible mass public transportation system, the government has long been treating the transport sector as [a way] to generate more profit [rather] than serving its purpose as a social service,” Magsoy said.

Moreover, the new DOTr measure is seen as inimical to the present economic plight of Filipino workers. The Beep cards being offered at bus stations cost P180. On top of this, Beep cards have a P5 convenience charge for third-party loading services and require having to maintain a P65 balance. Citizens urged the DOTr to refund the charge fee, permanently waive the convenience charge for third-party services, and nullify the maintaining balance. It has also been pointed out that the hasty implementation of Beep card would mean an additional cost to the already burdened Filipino workers who are bearing the brunt of an economic downturn during this pandemic.

What seems evident is that the Beep setup is insensitive to the conditions of our transportation public whose every peso spent for transportation is seen as negatively affecting their family’s next meal. The agency should have been more considerate and provided an alternative to the Beep setup for the contactless pay transactions that it sought to achieve. For those who have travelled overseas and have spent time in the public transportation networks in the US or Europe, recall that buses out there have two payment schemes in play: one, is where you can use a prepaid car on top of a bin and the second way, below it, is a slot where you put in the exact amount in coins or even a paper bill. The driver does not carry nor handle any money and in today’s pandemic times, that should be implemented here and not the knee-jerk reaction for a Beep card without serious thinking on how the masses would have felt.

We live in stressful times nowadays and efforts should be focused on helping people get over this pandemic and not burden them with half-baked schemes and poorly-thought pandemic measures. That despite all the huffing and puffing of government authorities, the Philippines has been identified in the list of the top 20 most infected countries in the globe. Maybe we need to rethink our transportation policies and best judgement of what the people need and would accept are in order.

Peachy Vibal – Guioguio is a PR strategist who has lead communications departments in GMA Network, ABS-CBN, and TV5. She enjoys long drives, taking scenic routes, and finds a thrill going wherever she pleases behind a wheel. She has yet to learn how to replace a flat tire.

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