Public Utility Jeepney (PUJ) drivers in Davao City launched a protest on Wednesday, December 27, opposing the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization (PUVM) program and the Davao Bus Project.
The rally, led by Davao-based transport groups Transmision-Piston, expressed concerns over the approaching December 31 deadline for franchise consolidation outlined in the PUVM program.
Larry Arguelles, Transmision-Piston spokesperson, highlighted the potential loss of livelihood for PUJ drivers and operators due to the consolidation efforts.
Simultaneously, a transport strike unfolded on the same day, affecting several routes, including Maa, Toril, and Matina Crossing.
He said, “Kapin libuan ka mga drayber ug operator sa tibuok Pilipinas mawad-an og prangkisa ug katungod nga mupasada sa 2024 og 2025. Mamahimo sad nga makorporatisa ang sistema sa transport kung kini hingpit nga mapatuman (More than a thousand drivers and operators across the Philippines will lose their franchise and the right to drive by 2024 and 2025. The transportation system may also become corporatized if the full implementation is carried out).”
Arguelles said that the Davao Public Transport Modernization Program, also known as the Davao Bus Project, poses challenges for small operators and drivers in Davao City.
The program aims to modernize public transportation by replacing PUJs with buses or minibusses.
He said that there is no opposition to development or progress. However, he emphasized the need for a fair and inclusive approach. Their earnest appeal to the government is to assist small drivers and operators in rehabilitating their PUJ units to meet environmental standards.
They also suggest allowing them to continue operating and reinstate the five-year effectiveness of their franchise.
On the same day, Transmision-Piston, along with other transport groups such as Storm and Southeastern Mindanao Diversified Operators Cooperative (Semdoc), initiated a transport strike.
Piston reported that operations on four routes were confirmed to be on hold, with the Maa route at 100 percent, Toril at 80 percent, Matina Crossing at 80 percent, and other routes northbound.
The transport group aims to convey their demands for a pro-poor, people-oriented, and just transport modernization through the transport strike and subsequent actions, with the hope that the government will take heed of their concerns.
Several commuters expressed concern about the impact of the December 27, 2023, transport strike on the traffic situation in downtown Davao City.
In a Messenger interview with SunStar Davao, college student Neil Teves shared his experience, noting a noticeable scarcity of jeepneys on the road from Magallanes to San Pedro.
He speculated that some drivers might have joined the protest against the Jeepney Modernization Program, as indicated on social media.
However, the jeepney he rode continued operating, prioritizing income over participation in the protest.
Queennie Juscine Laganson, a teacher from the Lamb of God Special Education Academy, reported no difficulty in finding rides from PUJs, as there were still numerous jeepneys traversing the city's roads.
"Okay lang naman, so far may mga jeep na naga byahe, wala sad ko nag lisod ug pangita ug masakyan pa downtown (It is okay; so far, there are jeeps traveling, and I did not have a hard time finding one to ride downtown)," Laganson said.
Reyland Alfeche, RSW, administrative assistant at the Ascending Move Foundation, Inc., highlighted the challenges of commuting to and from his office. He noted the increased difficulty, whether due to fewer jeepneys on the road or a higher number of people heading downtown.
"Kasi kahit morning palang, lisod na kaayo isakay padulong sa office, like instead one ride lang ko, maka two rides jud noon kay puno puno ang jeep tapos traffic pajud kaayo (Even in the morning, it's already challenging to get to the office. Instead of a single ride, it now takes two because the jeepneys are already full, and the traffic is heavy)," Alfeche said.
Laganson acknowledged the positive aspects of the government's modernization project, emphasizing its potential for enhancing transportation.
However, she pointed out that it could significantly impact PUJ or PUV drivers who rely on jeepneys as their primary source of income.
Similarly, Alfeche finds himself torn over endorsing jeepney modernization, considering the widespread impact on drivers and operators.
He noted that while change is challenging, the modernization program aims to improve transportation safety and efficiency, akin to trading an aging but reliable car for a safer, more efficient model.
Despite the difficulty of letting go, the overarching goal is to enhance transportation for the long-term benefit of everyone.
On the other hand, Teves underscored the need for the government to prioritize jeepney drivers, particularly in the face of the significant increase in fuel prices. He stressed the importance of considering the needs of PUJ and PUV drivers, citing the scarcity of public transportation that often leads people to rush towards jeepneys for a ride home.
“Need pod i-assess ang privileges sa modernization program on how feasible it is na ma-cater ang needs tanan nga PUJ drivers given na ma-control na ilang income sa few corporations (There is a need to assess the privileges of the modernization program to determine its feasibility in addressing the needs of all PUJ drivers, especially considering the potential control of their income by a few corporations),” Teves added. RGP