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I read the other day that a new driver’s license in the Philippines now costs more than PHP11,000 to get, with bulk of the fees coming from the new rules that require driving school certificates for both theoretical and practical driving courses.

This cost of entry to the world of driving in a country where everything is still car-centric, is a whopping 15 times higher than the PHP585 that the Land Transportation Office officially charges to issue a license. This massive price increase is because back then, it was the LTO that provided the theoretical and practical driving tests and “certifications” which were included in the cost of the application. Now, that responsibility has been farmed out to privately run driving schools.

I’ve putting off research on this, mainly because my son, who should qualify for a student’s license at this point, is not very interested in driving. But I saw a news article on it the other day and was blown away at how expensive this rite of passage has become.

According to the Inquirer article, a 5-hour theoretical driving course costs PHP2,500 and an 8-hour practical driving course will set you back around PHP6,800. The rest of the costs come from application fees, license fees and multiple medical certificates (in true LTO-style).

The purpose of the expensive driving courses is ostensibly to improve the quality of new drivers being injected into the Philippine road system, but based on what I’ve been seeing on the road, there seems to be no noticeable improvement so far, despite that additional cost/hurdle that new Filipino drivers now face.

If you come to think of it, an expensive driver’s license that discourages driving in general wouldn’t be so bad in a society where driving is no longer a necessity. For that to happen, public transportation should’ve been upgraded and active mobility made a priority in city planning and management. However, if there have been absolutely no efforts made by government to make driving and owning a car optional, then whoever made it extra expensive is just insensitive and cruel.

This is actually a toughie for the LTO because anyone who drives on Philippine roads knows that most drivers are ignorant and unqualified to have a license and drive a vehicle, and to be fair to them, a big reason would be how easy it used to be to get a driver’s license.

Their decision to make acquiring a driver’s license more difficult is understandable, but unfortunately for the mostly poor Filipinos, their preferred method of screening for unqualified drivers is using the almighty peso. They probably figured that making people spend almost PHP10K on driving courses will make them better drivers.

Well, it has either been too early for us to feel the change, as the new and better educated drivers are still outnumbered by the millions of licensed idiots and morons that rule our roads, or the new system sucks it is still riddled with loopholes and fixers that cost less than PHP10K but still get the job done.

In my case, am I willing to shell out PHP11K so my son can get his driver’s license? I may complain about the cost and the general effectivity of their chosen screening method, but it’s still a necessary 1-time expense that we can afford, so we are probably going to go ahead and pressure our kid into working on his driver’s license. After all, there are still no indications that our cities and communities are going to be less car dependent any time soon, so unless he is planning on migrating to a country like Singapore where a driver’s license is truly optional, a Filipino who can afford it might as well get himself one.

As for those who can hardly afford to put three square meals on the table but need a driver’s license to work or survive, then I guess they’ll just have to find the means, a sponsor, or a fixer.

However, the more I come to think of it, I still find myself in agreement with any move to make car ownership more difficult, with the caveat that safe and efficient public transportation is made available, sidewalks are walkable, and bike lanes are bikeable, because our towns and cities really don’t need more cars and drivers. Aside from making driver’s licenses tougher to acquire, government should also be cracking down on vehicle ownership through taxation and requiring proof of garage space, which is another expense that Filipino car owners really don’t consider when deciding to own a car.

The fairness of the new going rate for acquiring a driver’s license will depend on how important that piece of plastic will needs to be in the daily lives of Filipinos. Hopefully, as it becomes more expensive and inaccessible, government also finds the ways, means and a long term master plan to make it less and less necessary as well.*

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