How is your ride?

The answers to this question color the daily struggles of the estimated 3.5 million commuters streaming in and out of Metro Cebu.

In the commuting lives of residents in Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu cities, jeepneys, or their modern alternatives, the bus-jeepneys (Beeps), hog the roads of their daily journeys.

Other vehicles for hire cater to specialized requirements. Taxis are for passengers who prefer their own company or have bulky parcels to transport. The fares are higher and considered only a necessity in an emergency by many wage-earners.

While the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is being installed, jeepneys still cling as kings of the roads in Metro Cebu.

The increasing ubiquity of Beeps remains a welcome sight, especially during the peak hours of commuting for school or work or when caught in a downpour and desperate to avoid flash floods and traffic jam.

These modernized versions of the colorful but often dilapidated or ill-maintained traditional jeepneys have been promoted as green alternatives, safer and kinder to the environment and to people.

With the capacity to accommodate more passengers without drastically raising the fare traditional jeepneys charge for the same distance covered, Beeps were welcomed as lifelines of modernization alleviating Cebu’s traffic woes when these first plied the routes in Cebu in 2019.

With traffic back to pre-pandemic normal, commuters tick off the benefits of Beeps as alternatives to inhaling traffic fumes or being sprayed by rain in open traditional jeepneys; squeezing past the forest of knees and legs of passengers seated near the entrance of traditional jeepneys; and paying the pricey fare of metered and smartphone-booked taxis, whose rates spike in the hours of a commuter’s greatest need.

Yet, the Beeps have also been transformed by ground realities in Metro Cebu, which has 3.5 million commuters competing for public transport that accounts only for 10 percent of road traffic, according to the Cebu City Transport Office in September 2022.

In the logic of the Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Modernization Program, traditional jeepneys will be replaced because these “vintage” vehicles contribute to almost half of airborne particulate matter, based on the 2018 study in Metro Manila conducted by the University of the Philippines National Center for Transportation Studies in Diliman.

Maintaining the performance and condition of the Beeps will be a challenge since it is observed frequently these days that passengers stand and crowd in the aisles. These occurrences take place even outside peak commuting hours.

Commuters may prefer to take a ride rather than wait for the next Beep. Beep drivers and conductors may take in extra passengers even though the PUV Modernization Program was projected to do away with the traditional jeepneys’ “boundary” system, which increased a driver’s take-home earnings by increasing trips and maximizing passengers.

Overcrowding in Beeps ironically reminds commuters of the illegal practice in the 1980s for traditional jeepney drivers or dispatchers to put wooden stools in the already limited aisles to fit two or more passengers, increasing people’s discomfort and risks of accidents.

Carrying more than the capacity of seated passengers may take its toll on the working conditions of Beeps. Often, Beep conductors pick up passengers along the route instead of only at designated bus stops. Due to this practice of picking up passengers like traditional jeepneys, the doors of the Beeps are kept open, overworking the air-conditioning unit.

Passengers in a standing-room Beep that is only minimally cooled by the air-conditioning unit can only fan themselves and think of the old days when a breeze freely wafted in and out of open traditional jeepneys.

Public transport in Cebu has yet to come up with a better commuters’ rating for the age-old question: “How is your ride?”