PUBLIC utility vehicle drivers and their support organizations have heaved a temporary relief after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. approved the extension for franchise consolidation of jeepney drivers and operators under the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) to April 30, 2024.
“There is success in unified action. Today, thousands of drivers and small operators, and even millions of commuters, have reaped initial success. Because of our tireless collective action and determination to defend our livelihoods and rights, we pushed the Marcos regime to extend the deadline to April 30,” said Mody Floranda, president of the national federation of public transport associations in the Philippines, Piston.
“But extension alone is not enough. Let's continue to act until the business and foreign PUVMP is scrapped and fight for progressive, patriotic, and inclusive public transportation!” added the Piston leader on January 24, after the House Committee on Transportation approved a resolution to extend the consolidation period.
“This extension is to give an opportunity to those who expressed intention to consolidate but did not make the previous cut-off," Marcos said in a statement.
The government set December 31, 2023, as the original deadline for the consolidation of drivers and operators.
However, the government decided again that unconsolidated jeepneys and UV Express units only have until January 31, 2024 “to operate in routes with less than 60 percent consolidation rate.”
According to the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB), public utility vehicles totaling 190,000 units, comprising UV Express, public utility jeepneys, mini-buses, and buses, have availed of consolidation.
The Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said that as of mid-January, UV Express was able to achieve 82 percent consolidation; jeepneys, 75 percent; buses, 86 percent; and mini-buses, 45 percent, citing a report from the LTFRB.
Since the roll-out of the modernization program in 2017, a total of 1,728 cooperatives and corporations with 262,344 members were established, PCO added.
The consolidation or the formation of transport cooperatives or other legal entities will allow drivers and operators “to access benefits such as government subsidies and access to credit facilities, among others, to aid in modernizing their fleets and run the modernized units in a systematic and predictable manner,” the LTFB emphasized in its modernization campaign.
Meanwhile, Caritas Philippines, the social arm of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, criticized the April 30 deadline extension for public transport modernization, saying that a “patchwork solution won't fix structural problems.”
“While extending the deadline for public transport modernization to April 30th, 2024, offers a temporary reprieve, Caritas Philippines remains concerned that it merely postpones the inevitable without addressing the sector's fundamental challenges,” Jing Rey Henderson, Caritas Philippines head of communications and partnership development, said in a report from Catholic news site UCA News.
“The extension does not solve the core issues plaguing our transportation system. We reiterate our call for a just and inclusive transition that prioritizes the well-being of small operators and drivers, safeguards the environment, and fosters locally developed, sustainable solutions,” Henderson added.
The Caritas Philippines official, however, reiterated their previous concerns about the modernization program, citing human cost, environmental responsibility, and preserving Filipino identity.
“We urge the government to ensure fair compensation, livelihood support, and retraining programs for displaced individuals. These are not statistics, but our neighbors and fellow Filipinos,” Henderson said.
“We advocate for investment in locally developed, renewable energy-powered vehicles, harnessing Filipino ingenuity to build a clean and green future,” she added.
According to her, jeepneys are more than just vehicles.
“They are cultural symbols. We need solutions that honor our heritage and showcase Filipino resourcefulness, integrating them into a modern and efficient system. The true test of successful modernization lies not in delaying deadlines, but in tackling the root causes of our transportation woes,” Henderson said.
As this developed, Filipino commuters like Valentino Peneda in Palo town in Leyte said he is “comfortable” riding the modern jeepneys plying in the town.
“The modernization of our public utility vehicles is a matter of acceptance. If we do not accept this, the more our country’s public utility vehicles become backward,” said the 53-year-old commuter.
Comfortable commuting lifestyle
From the decades-old jeepney powered by diesel, the PUVM paves the way for modern jeepneys across the country, with features like Euro-4 and PNS (Philippine National Standards) compliant engines or LPG-powered, electronic, and hybrid.
The new public utility vehicle design will also include GPS, an automated fare collection system, and a CCTV camera.
Christine Montances, an office worker in Tacloban City, said that she is in favor of the modernization program.
“I like the modern buses and jeepneys because they have now an airconditioned system and are not overcrowded, making my travel more comfortable and safer than before,” Montances told Sunstar Philippines.
Meanwhile, Caritas Philippines urged the government “to engage in open dialogue with stakeholders, including small operators, drivers, and civil society, to craft a comprehensive plan that truly benefits all Filipinos.”
“Let's not simply postpone the problem, but work together to build a sustainable, efficient, and equitable transportation system that leaves no one behind,” Henderson said.