Will the Jeepney Modernization Program Result to the Phaseout of the Jeepney?

For many years, commuters have been demanding from the government to work on creating a real public transport system not only for Metro Manila but also for the entire country. It is for this reason that the Duterte administration is embarking on two major programs to create the dream public transport network for the Philippines- “Build! Build! Build!,” which aims to construct more rail-based mass transport systems, and the jeepney fleet modernization program.

For more than 70 years, the jeepney is the king of Philippine roads. Derived from modified surplus US Army jeeps that were left behind by American forces after World War II, it is the most common and most affordable means of public transportation for many Filipinos. It has transformed itself into a symbol of Filipino culture and art, as it celebrates the craftsmanship and creativity through its colorful and unique designs.

However, through the years, the jeepney is gaining more notoriety from commuters, who tend to avoid riding in them when there is the opportunity to do so.

Most jeepney manufacturers use surplus truck engines that consume large amounts of diesel fuel and release toxic fumes into the air. For the jeepney body and chassis, the usual materials are substandard steel and welded iron, both which are brittle and will easily crumple or break. Vehicles safety features such as seatbelts are either lacking or weak improvised ones. These and the inability of most drivers and operators to properly maintain their vehicles turned present-day jeepneys into a major cause of air pollution, and a safety hazard to both drivers and commuters.

At the same time, most jeepney drivers tend to be rude to or cheat their passengers in giving back change and have tendency to do road rage whenever they compete against other jeepney drivers or when triggered by other drivers on the road. They also do not follow traffic rules, either because they are not aware of them or they simply ignore them to meet the boundary, a day's worth of earnings that will be deducted from them by operators they will take home after meeting a specific number of trips. Worse, some jeepney drivers do not care about the safety of the passengers from either accidents or crime, or are even in cahoots with or are criminals themselves.

Recognizing the clamor from commuters to have a safe, fuel efficient and more environmentally-friendly means of transport; and after conducting a series of public hearings involving stakeholders, transport groups and the general public, the government, led by the Department of Transportation (DOTr), is embarking on a jeepney fleet modernization program, with the goal of replacing older jeepneys plying the country's roads within a few years’ time with new jeepneys that are made of stronger materials that can withstand impact, and wear and tear; greater but comfortable passenger capacity due to an increase in the number of seats with a new arrangement; and are equipped with more fuel-efficient and environmental standards-complaiant Euro IV engines or powered by electric batteries, Beep Card electronic payment system, wi-fi connection, seatbelts and other vehicle safety features, and cameras inside and outside the vehicle.

Alongside the upgrading of the jeepney itself comes an improvement in the earning capability of drivers and operators, especially small-scale ones who operate one or two jeepney units, as their income will increase to the introduction and eventual operation of new models.

Drivers who work under an operator will now be paid a regular salary and accompanied by government-mandated benefits, as the boundary system will be eventually scrapped.

The fleet modernization program will be undertaken by the government on a gradual basis. Jeepneys that are 15 years or older must be taken out of the streets soon or they will be impounded by the government. Small-scale jeepney driver-operators, those who operate one or two jeepneys and have limited financial resources to purchase brand-new modernized jeepneys, will be assisted by the government through credit programs being offered by state creditors Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines.

The government is also exploring the possibility of providing incentives to manufacturers for them to come up with better modern jeepney models and help small-scale jeepney driver-operators afford the said vehicles.”

While other transport groups support for the jeepney fleet modernization program, especially after the government was able to properly address their concerns regarding small-scale jeepney driver-operators and gave them assurances, some of them, most notably the left-wing Pinag-isang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (PISTON), led by George San Mateo, vehemently opposed the government plan.

PISTON and other groups claim that the jeepney fleet modernization program is “anti-poor and anti-Filipino.” Through its social media and traditional media press releases they claim that the effort to modernize the jeepney will result to a total phase-out of the jeepney from the country's roads, resulting to only a few individuals owning public utility vehicles and having a monopoly on fare rates. It its usual left-wing tone, PISTON insinuated that the program to modernize the jeepney means that the Duterte administration is “catering to capitalists and foreign powers.”

Just this Monday, July 15, 2019, groups led by the Alliance of Concerned Transport Organizations (ACTO) and PISTON launched a transport strike against the jeepney modernization program and policies of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). Leaders of the group said that the modern jeepneys "were based on international standards and are not fit in the Philippines when flood occurs." They are also demanding the resignation of LTFRB chairman Martin Delgra and threatened that they would mount a larger, more nationwide protest if the government refuses to listen to them and agree to their demands.

President Duterte was not intimidated by threats coming from PISTON and other transport groups, with him making clear of his intention to push through with the program on the basis of the welfare of the Filipino people and telling jeepney drivers and operators who still run 15 year-old or older jeepneys to follow the rules and adapt the modern jeepney or have their vehicles impounded.

Now, here is the question: Will the jeepney modernization program tantamount result to the phaseout of the jeepney?

The answer is no, the jeepney will not be phased out from Philippine roads any time soon.

The DOTr's official Facebook page is clear on this, saying, "DOTr and LTFRB reiterate once again that the PUV Modernization program is not about any form of phase out. It is about modernizing jeepney fleets towards a more efficient, safe, comfortable, PWD-friendly and environmentally-sensitive public commuting."

For many years, Filipino commuters have been suffering from a lack of seamless, credible, effective and efficient means of public transport. They have been demanding from the government to work on creating a real public transport system not only for Metro Manila but also for the entire country. It is for this reason that the Duterte administration is embarking on two major programs to create the dream public transport network for the Philippines- “Build! Build! Build!,” which aims to construct more rail-based mass transport systems, and the jeepney fleet modernization program.

While new modes of transport such as the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and the Metro Manila Subway and other railway lines are still being worked on or the process of construction, the jeepney will remain the most accessible and most common means of commuting for the Filipino. It is just right and fair for the long suffering commuters to finally take modern jeepneys that are safe, efficient and comfortable. It is also right and fair for them to deal with jeepney drivers and operators who will charge reasonable fare rates and not cheat on them.

This is the first time in 30 or so years that a sitting government has the resolve the jeepney will evolve into a modern, safe, comfortable, effective, efficient and environmentally-friendly vehicle.

It is only President Duterte who had the guts to go against and will be cowed by the threats and intimidation coming anti-progress and anti-commuter transport groups, especially PISTON.

Therefore, the claim by some transport groups that the jeepney modernization program is tantamount to a total phase-out of the jeepney is nothing but a fabrication, as the status quo only benefits them at the expense of Filipino commuters.

 

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About the Author
Benedict is an agricultural economist, academician and writer. He has gained experience and expertise in various fields of economics, business, political science and public relations after through professional ventures in the academe, and in the public and private sectors. He has authored or co-authored key publications on topics ranging from agriculture and food security to global affairs and politics.
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