Cabaero: Beyond a transport strike

JEEPNEY groups in Manila were able to paralyze public transport Monday as a protest to the government’s modernization plan for them, but their local counterparts were unsuccessful.

In Cebu, the local government prepared for the transport strike by fielding buses to ferry commuters who may get stranded. Protest organizers the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (Piston) in Cebu and other groups held gatherings to air their sentiments but public transport service continued.

It was a different story in Manila where classes were suspended Monday to prevent having students disadvantaged or stranded on streets and the National Government said it might even consider a week-long suspension if the transport strike continued. Police said they assisted over a thousand stranded commuters in Metro Manila.

While impact was felt in Manila, no such effect was experienced in Cebu. This did not mean Cebu jeepney drivers agreed to the modernization plan that would require them to take out loans and invest in new units, or that Cebuanos were unconcerned with the plight of drivers.

What was more important to the Cebu organizers, it turned out, was for their sentiment to be known to the public.

Another reason could be that Cebu, unlike areas in Metro Manila, have an alternative public transport system through motorcycle taxis or for-hire motorcycles commonly known as habal-habal.

Want to go somewhere quick? Take a habal-habal. Avoid traffic and reach your destination on time? Look for a habal-habal. Taxis and cars with Grab or Uber are other alternatives but the quickest way for many is still the motorcycle. Some habal-habal drivers reportedly welcomed the transport strike because it meant having more customers and being able to charge higher.

The Piston protest is based on government’s plan to replace old jeepneys with new units, even environment-friendly ones, and encourage franchise holders to unite under a cooperative or a corporation and get access to bank loans to finance the purchase of new units. Critics of the modernization program said jeepney drivers would have to stop working until they get a new unit or a loan to buy one. Organized operators and drivers said the program was anti-poor as one would need at least P1 million to get a new unit. Jeepney drivers must also change their mindsets about getting bank loans and becoming investors themselves.

The newness of the government’s program is a valid complaint of the drivers and operators but there must be ways other than holding a transport strike for them to seek the public’s understanding.

They could tap social media to get the public informed of their sentiments. Piston and other groups can let other people, like those in cooperatives, speak for them on the challenges or benefits in store for jeepney operators and drivers.

Protestors should go beyond a transport strike to get the public to their side.
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