CEBU CITY (Updated) - Hundreds of commuters were stranded and were late for work and classes after some 300 jeepney drivers left their routes, marched from Fuente Osmeña to N. Bacalso Ave. in Cebu City and held a picket rally in front of two government offices, stalling traffic.

The drivers claimed that their protest activities paralyzed about 70 percent of the transport network in Cebu City and Mandaue City, but according to Citom, only about 30 percent of the network was paralyzed.

Drivers of jeepneys plying the Talamban, Mabolo, Lahug, Banawa, Labangon, Bulacao and Guadalupe routes in Cebu City abandoned their routes as early as 6:30 a.m.

Stranded passengers were transported by 28 Kaohsiung buses and other City and barangay-owned vehicles.

Jeepney drivers protested against the Joint Administrative Order (JAO) 2014-01, or the revised schedule of fines and penalties for violations of laws, rules and regulations governing land transportation.

The rally was organized by members of the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston).

Gregory Perez, Piston coordinator, said they held the rally to express their disappointment over the increase of the penalties and fines for violations.

He said the JAO hurt the livelihood of the public utility jeepney (PUJ) drivers.

“These jeepney drivers have families to feed and yet they will increase the penalty for violations. That is very unfair,” Perez told Cebu.

Perez said about 300 PUJ drivers joined the protest activities yesterday.

While the drivers were protesting outside the offices of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and Cebu City Traffic Operations Management (Citom) on N. Bacalso Ave., Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama met with some Piston leaders inside the Citom office to listen to their concerns.

Like the drivers, the mayor believes that the increased fines and penalties that the LTO and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) impose on drivers are too much.

Drivers protest
CEBU. The drivers expressed their opposition to the new government order that increases penalties for road use and franchise infractions. (Arni Aclao/Sun.Star Cebu photo)

Rama assured the protesters that he will go to Manila to discuss the concern with DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.

The mayor has yet to schedule his trip.

In a news conference after his meeting, Rama said the penalties should be based on what the drivers can afford.

He said the penalties should be “corrective and not punitive, not oppressive, confiscatory or unfair.”

As stated in the order, the penalty for driving without license was increased from P1,500 to P3,000. The penalty for operating or driving an unregistered motor vehicle was also increased from P2,000 (first offense), P4,000 (second offense), P5,000 (third offense) to P10,000.

Penalties for expired plates were also increased from P200 or P2,000 to P5,000, among other penalties.

Colorum bus operators will also be fined P1 million; P200,000 for van and truck operators; P120,000 for sedan operators; P50,000 for jeepney owners; and P6,000 for motorcycle operators.

Rama said the public should be properly consulted on any increase in fines or penalties. Rama was told during the meeting that Piston members were not consulted on JAO 2014-01.

Edgar Larito, a driver plying the Talamban-downtown Cebu City route, said he decided to join the rally for his family.

Larito, who has been driving a jeepney for 15 years, admitted that he has committed several violations.

But he lamented that there are times when Citom enforcers apprehend drivers even if they did not commit violations.

He earns P500 a day, which he spends for his family’s needs. But with the higher fines imposed by LTO, he is worried that he will not have enough for his family.

Despite the protest activities, an official of LTO 7 said that the implementation of the joint administrative order will still push through.

LTO 7 Assistant Regional Director Alita Pulga told reporters that her office has yet to receive an order suspending the implementation of the JAO 2014-01.

Stranded commuters
CEBU. Commuters wait for hours for the public utility jeepneys that never arrive because their drivers have abandoned their routes to join a picket and a march. (Ruel Rosillo/Sun.Star Cebu photo)

For his part, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) 7 Regional Director Ahmed Cuizon said operators who allowed their drivers to cancel their trips may be required to appear and explain why their franchises should not be suspended or cancelled.

In a separate interview, Citom Executive Director Rafael Christopher Yap noted that only about 30 percent of the public transport network was affected by the strike yesterday.

Though the number of public utility vehicles (PUV) was fewer than usual, Yap said the transport strike initiated by some transport groups did not totally paralyze public transportation.

The problem was addressed after City-owned vehicles were deployed to transport stranded passengers, he said.

Based on the monitoring of the city’s command center, drivers started abandoning their routes around 6:30 a.m.

To keep other students from getting stranded, Rama and the Department of Education Cebu City Division suspended the classes of the public night high schools.

Cebu City Schools Division Superintendent Rhea Mar Angtud said classes were cancelled so the students will not have a hard time going to school.

Students who made it to school in the morning were also dismissed early.

In the cities of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu, the local government units mobilized their vehicles to give free ride to stranded commuters.

In Lapu-Lapu City, the City Government sent one bus, four Canters, two multicabs and a mini-bus to the jeepney terminal in Barangay Pajo to transport stranded commuters.

Province-owned vehicles were on stand-by as early as 1 p.m. to help transport stranded commuters.