If someone asks, “What makes the Philippines unique?” many of us would answer with “jeepney,” a cultural icon that is endemic to our streets. Since the 1940s, they have been a staple of Filipino public transportation, originating from the World War II Willys General Purpose vehicles left by the American military. Jeepneys, known for their loudness, colorful designs, and affordability, have evolved from small vehicles into extended ones to carry more passengers. However, improvements in efficiency, safety, and comfort have been minimal. This has led to the controversial proposal of jeepney phase out in the Philippines, aiming to improve public transport by phasing out old vehicles and introducing new systems and standards for vehicles.
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What is a jeepney phase out?
As discussed in “The Jeepney Phase-out Explained,” published by Manila Bulletin, the jeepney phase-out is a significant revision of how Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) franchises are granted, along with the organization of routes. In essence, it’s a small part of a larger initiative called PUV Modernization.
Moreover, LTFRB defines Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) as the government’s response to address both the aggravating transport related problems and the future transportation demand of the country.
The program is designed to transform the public transport system in the country to global standards, making commuting more dignified and humane.
It also aims to improve the lives of Filipinos by providing a safer, more efficient, reliable, convenient, affordable, and environmentally sustainable transportation system.
Scope of the phase out
Is the jeepney phase out nationwide? The answer is yes. The Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD) outlined in their Policy Brief No. 2020-02:
“The Philippine government launched the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) in 2017 as a move towards changing the landscape of public transportation in the country.”
The abstract continued, “Despite PUVMP’s objective to provide a comfortable, accessible, reliable, environment friendly, and sustainable public transportation for every Filipino, several challenges impede the progress of its implementation.”
Proposal of jeepney phase out
Who proposed the jeepney phase out? On September 21, 2016, jeepney operators and drivers planned to hold a nationwide transport holiday if the Congress passed a bill that would approve the newly named Department of Transportation’s (DOTr) plan to carry out the PUV phaseout program, among other projects. The bill also pushed to give emergency powers to former President Rodrigo Duterte to solve the transport crisis.
Role of Marcos in jeepney phase out
Under the administration of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista emphasizes the necessity of modernizing PUVs, clarifying that the plan is far from being discarded.
Sec. Bautista added that the project will bolster the CASA program in the transport sector, generating more jobs and leading to more organized groups with efficient operations.
The modernization program will end the boundary system, allowing drivers to earn more within reasonable working hours, and will implement a standard to maximize the benefits of modern jeepneys nationwide.
On December 12, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced that the government will not extend its year-end deadline for jeepney drivers to consolidate into cooperatives or corporations.
However, on December 28, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) announced that non-consolidated jeepneys could continue to operate on specific routes until January 31. This announcement was made despite the deadline for public utility vehicle (PUV) operators to consolidate operations or at least submit applications before the end of the year.
Opposition to jeepney phase out
Since the start of the modernization program, some transport groups have labeled it as ‘anti-poor’. They argue that the responsibility of upgrading their vehicles will fall on the operators and drivers. Additionally, they suggest this could be a scheme to boost vehicle sales for foreign businessmen and large automotive companies.
According to a timeline by CNN on the government’s PUV phaseout program, transport groups like Piston, Stop and Go Coalition, Manibela and FEJODAP have conducted a series of nationwide protests since 2016. Online petitions such as ‘No to Jeepney Phaseout and Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program’ and ‘NO TO JEEPNEY PHASE OUT‘ were created.
On November 20, jeepney drivers held another strike against the government’s December 31 deadline.
PISTON national president Mody Floranda stated, “Wag na nila lituhin ang taumbayan. Ang franchise consolidation ay phaseout. Ang franchise consolidation ay pagbawi at pagmasaker sa mga indibidwal na prangkisa at pagpasa nito sa mga malalaking transport corporation na sila lang may kapasidad na magbayad at sumunod sa mga pakana ng gubyerno.”
The jeepney phase out brought by the modernization program brought several challenges to drivers and operators. The government is urging current drivers and operators to surrender their franchises, offering financial assistance for new vehicle acquisition or career change.
The new Public Utility Vehicles (PUVs) are expensive but compliant with regulations and more efficient. A ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program is being considered to incentivize the scrapping of old PUVs. However, the acquisition of land for operations presents a challenge, especially in developed areas with high land values.
Furthermore, Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) drivers and operators face challenges transitioning from a single franchise system to forming cooperatives, due to lack of knowledge in paperwork and business planning.
Additionally, securing loans is difficult due to the absence of viable business plans and banks’ requirements for clean records. Some PUV suppliers assist with paperwork, but resistance remains, particularly regarding banks’ handling of earnings and expenses once loans are granted.
In a recent report by CNA, there are concerns that the impending consolidation could result in the loss of thousands of jobs for drivers and operators who don’t join a cooperative and potentially increase transport costs.
Many traditional jeepney drivers are skeptical of the modernization program, believing that the traditional scheme offers better take-home pay.
Consequently, small jeepney operators are uncertain about how to form a cooperative due to a lack of information and support from the government. They also worry about losing money to corrupt or poorly managed cooperatives.
One operator expressed, “The modern jeepneys will be owned by the cooperative, not us. We would just be employees, so we don’t like the programme.”
Another operator said he feels he has no option but to relinquish his small business if it enables him to send his children to school.
“If they phase out jeepneys, many will starve and lose their livelihood. Many of us are 40 to 70 years old,” one driver said.
The jeepney phase-out in the Philippines, aimed at modernizing public transport, has been met with considerable opposition. While the plan promises improved efficiency, safety, and sustainability, concerns persist about the economic impact on drivers and operators. The transition to a cooperative system, high costs of new vehicles, and potential job losses have sparked nationwide protests led by transport groups who believe that the program is ‘anti-poor.’