Thursday , June 21, 2018

Wenceslao: Bound to fail

ECONOMIC growth, like everything in the world, is a process. So too modernization. My belief is this: any modernization thrust will fail if development planners won’t recognize the “process” aspect. Meaning that they should first recognize at what level the modernization process is before going to the next level. If they fail that, the push to the next level fails.

When I was a reporter, I covered government offices including those in the Cebu City Hall, the Provincial Capitol and the Regiona Development Council (RDC). I distinctly remember a supposed traffic czar batting for the phase out of public utility jeepneys (PUJs) and their replacement with buses. He apparently learned that from his travels abroad where public officials usually pick their ideas from.

A few years later, the multicabs were introduced as a mode of transportation, a smaller version of the jeepneys. And later the trisikads were sold in bicycle shops. Still many years later, cheap China-made motorcycles flooded the market. The said government official has long gone back to the private world, his idea of buses replacing PUJs long forgotten. Instead, to the PUJs were added the multicabs especially in some formerly neglected routes and the trisikads in many interior streets. Motorcycles became ubiquitous as a means of moving ordinary folks.

What happened? The proliferation of multicabs, trisikads and motorcycles (some used as habal-habals) in Metro Cebu instead of buses obviously reflected the level the country’s transport sector is in. Only few could afford to invest in buses for public utility and considering, too, return for the investment (fare would certainly be high). But multicabs, trisikads and motorcycles were affordable and could provide lower fare. They weren’t glossy, but who cares?

I view the current jeepney modernization plan of the government the same way. The idea sounds good at first blush: replace rickety jeepneys with new ones. The problem is that government is pushing the modernization thrust too far from the current level of the PUJ transport industry. Government planners have either forgotten or are ignorant of the situation of that sector, example: the procurement of jeepney units and their use (how did, say Sarao make affordable jeepney units?).

Jeepney units need to be cheap (the only fancy thing in those vehicles are the body decorations and the only gadget some drivers use are stereo sets). This is so because the people served by them are the ordinary Juan and Juanas, those who could not afford taxi, Grab or Uber fare. But do you know how much the price of the “modern” jeepneys the government is proposing? That would be P1.6 million cash, less government subsidy, P1.2 million net. If paid in seven years the price would balloon to P2.2 million plus interest. Wow!

One computation on the payment: at P8 minimum fare, the jeepney must accommodate at least 109 passengers every day for seven years. That does not even consider boundary and fuel costs and other expenses. No wonder PUJ drivers and operators are up in arms on this one. Those who came up with the plan are either not PUJ operators or drivers or did not conduct a thorough study on it with inputs from the concerned sector. I worry.