MODERNIZATION strikes a chill in the hearts of jeepney operators and drivers.

That is one realization to be drawn from the Oct. 16 nationwide strike led by members of the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston).

According to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), approximately 50 percent of the 400,000 public utility vehicles (PUVs) registered nationwide are jeepneys. Majority of the registered public utility jeepneys (PUJs) are at least 15 years old.

A significant number of these units are required to “modernize,” according to the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines, which were signed also on the day of the nationwide PUJ strike. 

With the signing of the OFG,  officials began the three-year period of transition for the eventual replacement of old PUJ units with electric or hybrid models.

Even if the LTFRB asserts that there will be no phase-out of the PUJs, the cost implications of the PUV modernization program will result to the same end for many PUJ operators and drivers.

Will the modernization program result into more efficient, environmentally safer, and affordable rides for the PUJ-commuting public?

Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade should pursue public consultations with all stakeholders before implementing to the letter the OFG.

The authorities should conduct a communication campaign to educate the stakeholders about the superior features and benefits, including the cost-benefits, of the recommended electric or hybrid modern jeepney models.

What are the maintenance costs of these electric or hybrid models? For PUVs, which are used daily and under extreme conditions, maintenance expenses are primary considerations for operators and drivers. 

Do local manufacturers have the capability to produce these recommended models? 

Does the government have the capability and will to inspect these models to verify if they conform to set standards and requirements?

A few years back, the government strictly implemented the law requiring standardized helmets for motorcycle riders. Only helmets conforming to government-set safety requirements were accepted for registration.

This sound policy is more observed in the past than in the present. The streets of Dumaguete City demonstrate how there are difficulties in sustainable implementation of the law. 

In Cebu City, adults carrying infants and older children, with or without helmets, ride motorcycles with impunity. Unregistered motorcycle-driving entrepreneurs (“habal-habal”) bring “helmets” for their passengers; yet, few of these helmets merit the government’s seal of approval.

So the government’s pronouncement that it will not allow rehabilitation of old PUJs more than merits skepticism: how long will the government’s resolve to implement the law hold? Is the PUJ modernization program not just a money-making scheme concocted between some officials and capitalists?

Among the concerns to be addressed in public consultations should be the government’s program extending loans to PUJ operators at five-percent increase payable in seven years. Who can avail of such? Is collateral required? What are the guidelines for loan availment?

The PUV modernization program emphasizes the installation of new equipment or replacement of old, dilapidated models with newer models. 

However, modernization also implies the adoption of new ideas and methods. Posing road risk to public safety is the mentality of entitlement that makes every driver greedy for right of way at the expense of the law or basic road courtesy to prioritize public safety and smooth flow of traffic.

All stakeholders—private and public, pedestrian and motorist— need such “modern” thinking. 

However, inevitably, during encounters with another abusive driver or a smoke-belching vehicle, this question is inevitably raised and left unanswered: who allowed these law-breakers to go on the road?