SEVERAL transport groups in the Philippines have launched nationwide strikes and caravans to oppose the phasing out of public utility jeepneys (PUJs) as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. stood firm against extending the December 31, 2023 deadline for the consolidation of public utility vehicles (PUV) operators.
Mody Floranda, national president of transport group Piston, said Marcos “is causing an unprecedented transport crisis and massacre of livelihood by denying the extension of the deadline for franchise consolidation on December 31, 2023.”
On Thursday, December 14, the drivers and operators held a caravan in Manila to dramatize the demand to stop the PUV phaseout.
They also set up a camp at the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) central office, and vowed to stay there “until demands are met.”
“The government is blatantly misleading the public by claiming that 70 percent of PUVs have already consolidated. What they fail to explain is that this data includes all types of PUVs, including buses,” Floranda said in a statement to the media.
On December 12, Marcos said that 70 percent of all operators “have already committed to and consolidated” under the PUV Modernization Program, adding that the government “cannot allow further delays in its implementation.”
Marcos said such delays in the PUV Modernization Program “are affecting majority of the PUV operators, banks, financial institutions and the public.”
“Adhering to the current timeline ensures that everyone can reap the benefits of the full operationalization of our modernized public transport system. Hence, the scheduled timeline will not be moved,” Marcos said in a statement on December 12.
However, the Piston leader maintained that “Marcos Jr. and his cohorts in the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and LTFRB do not seem to care for these thousands of informal public transport workers.”
“Let their own data speak for itself. There are 64,639 unconsolidated units nationwide, 30,862 of which are PUJs and 4,852 UV Express units in National Capital Region. This amounts to an estimated 60,000 PUJ drivers and 9,000 UV Express drivers, 25,000 PUJ operators and 4,000 UV Express operators in NCR alone,” Floranda said.
“Is this the ‘minority’ Marcos Jr. is talking about? Even if they are, Marcos Jr., DOTr, and LTFRB seem to think that these livelihoods do not matter at all,” he added.
The transport leader reiterated that the PUV Modernization Program and its franchise consolidation requirement “is flawed, anti-poor, and only serves the interests of big businesses.”
“It is only right and justified to strike against these policies,” Floranda said.
As this developed, Senator Grace Poe, the chairperson of the Committee on Public Services, chided DOTr “for its failures in implementing the PUV Modernization Program, particularly in providing aid for affected PUV drivers, years since its launch.”
Poe earlier expressed her frustration over the “lack of provisions protecting and supporting some 300,000 PUV drivers next year.”
The senator, who also defended the DOTr's proposed budget under the 2024 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), said only P1.6 billion was allocated for the PUV Modernization Program.
In a statement, Poe’s estimates showed that a total of P750 billion is required to subsidize the consolidation of PUVs and replacement of dilapidated units.
The lady senator also slammed DOTr “for missing its own targets, while setting strict deadlines for the PUV drivers and operators.”
"Where is government in this modernization? The audacity of DOTr to set deadlines when it cannot help [our drivers]," Poe said in Filipino.
‘Safer, reliable, convenient’ transportation
In 2017, the government launched the guidelines on the PUV Modernization program “to address both the aggravating transport-related problems and the future transportation demand of the country.”
The program aims to fundamentally transform the public transport system in the Philippines, making both commuting and public transportation operations “more dignified, humane and on par with global standards.”
The government added that the program will give “a comfortable life for all Filipinos through providing a safer, more efficient, reliable, convenient, affordable, climate-friendly, and environmentally sustainable transportation system in the country.”
The modern jeepney engines should at least be Euro-4 and Philippine National Standards compliant engines or LPG-powered, electronic and hybrid.
Jeepneys that are at least 15 years old can no longer be registered or operated.
However, the program requires the consolidation of operators and the establishment of bigger coordinated fleets of PUVs.
The National Government, through its state-owned financial banks, offers the financing of public transport cooperatives or corporations to help them make the shift to more efficient and safer vehicles.
As of August 31, 2020, the state-owned Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) has approved a total of P737.21 million in loans to 16 borrowers nationwide for the purchase of 407 modern jeepneys under the modernization program.
“Modern jeepneys currently cost around P2.2 and P2.4 million. Unlike the clunky and noisy jeepneys, these are equipped with safety and convenient features such as curb-side passenger entrance and exit access, air-conditioning, closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems, and Global Positioning System (GPS), among others,” the LBP said in a statement.
Landbank’s PUV Program allows borrowers to loan up to 95
percent of the total acquisition cost of the PUJ, with an interest rate of six percent per annum and payable up to a maximum of seven years.
Yet, for 38-year-old PUV driver Jepoy Castro in Tacloban City, the PUV modernization “would cost them a lot.”
Castro, who has been a driver for 13 years, said they find difficulty in raising money to pay for the payment of a modernized vehicle.
“Currently, we can only earn between P600 to P700 for our daily boundary. Under the modernization, we need to raise from P1,800 to P2,500 for our daily boundary so we can pay for the vehicle. Where can we find that big amount of money?” he asked. (SunStar Philippines)