Is there life after 31 December 2023?
Under the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), yesterday was the deadline given for the holders of single franchises to consolidate under a cooperative or corporation.
Consolidation is argued to give members more leverage to buy modern PUVs, worth P2.8 million in September 2023. Under this setup, members can apply for loans for the purchase.
Those who failed to consolidate by the end of the year 2023 will have their permits to operate revoked.
Yet, the PUVMP faces criticism and resistance, particularly because the steep cost of a modern public utility jeepney (PUJ) puts this beyond the reach of many drivers and operators.
A traditional jeepney costs from P150,000 to P250,000, reported Rappler on Mar. 14, 2023.
Even with a government subsidy to cover the down payment for a bank loan, a loan to cover the more than P2 million approximate cost of a modern PUJ requires an amortization of P38,000-P40,000 per month for seven years.
These terms no longer make the acquisition of a modern PUV viable for many traditional jeepney operators and drivers, according to testimonies for a House hearing made by officials of the Development Bank of the Philippines and the Landbank of the Philippines, two government financial institutions issuing loans for the PUVMP.
Being saddled with this debt is inhuman for a jeepney driver who clears less than P500 a day, often in competition with modern bus-jeepneys (Beeps) and obstructions posed by heavy traffic and roadwork closures in urban centers.
Commuters posted their support for the traditional jeepney community on social media during the recent holiday.
Karla, a daily commuter who takes three rides in a one-way route from her residence in Lapu-Lapu City to her workplace in Cebu City, says that the PUVMP’s implementation of the first-phase consolidation in January 2024 means the loss of livelihood for thousands of traditional jeepney drivers and more uncertainties for their families, with many still struggling to recover from the pandemic lockdowns.
Karla doubts whether the PUVMP can absorb all the displaced drivers of traditional jeepneys and guarantee them a daily earning of P650, more than the usual take-home earning of a traditional PUJ driver.
“Unsa na man ilang panginabuhi (what will happen to their livelihood)?” she asks, pointing out that every person, from the richest to the poorest, requires a means to earn and provide a decent life for his or her dependents.
From the standpoint of the survival of jeepney drivers and their families, the PUVMP fails to offer viable alternatives that are not hinged on taking out a multi-million loan or consolidating and losing their single-proprietorship franchises to cooperatives and corporations.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development announced that displaced drivers and operators of traditional jeepneys can avail of financial assistance through the Assistance in Crisis Situation (AICS) program, reported the Philippine News Agency on Dec. 29, 2023.
After assessment by social workers, families affected by the PUVMP can avail themselves of food, cash aid and other forms of assistance.
However, the AICS is a one-time grant. Traditional jeepney drivers and their families resorted to living in their PUJs during the pandemic lockdowns because they had no savings to fall back on. Many members of the informal economy did not receive food and cash subsidies from local government units during two years of the lockdowns.
Seeking to balance ecological sustainability and economic survival, citizens urge the government to support operators and drivers of traditional PUJs in upgrading their units to become more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly. Upgrading will also be less costly than modernization.
The bottom line is that, for genuine development to take place, all stakeholders, especially the most affected—traditional jeepney drivers and their families—should benefit from innovations.