"The public deserves better."
Part of the horrible traffic problem in Metro Manila at present, no doubt, are the ubiquitous jeepneys that descended from Willy’s jeep, the reliable workhorses of American troops during the Second World War. Filipino ingenuity transformed the jeeps left by the Americans into what were known as auto-calesas or ACs. The ACs initially carried two riders on the front seat beside the driver and two to three more in two parallel rows for a total of six to eight passengers. Later, realizing that bigger units could give drivers more daily income, manufacturers lengthened the jeepneys to accommodate as many as 20 or more riders.
The jeepneys still ply major streets in Metro Manila and other urban areas even as a few light rail networks are already in operation, with another one under construction. While there have been calls for the total phaseout of jeepneys, the government wants instead to modernize them.
The public utility vehicle modernization program of the Department of Transportation wants new jeepneys to conform to certain standards. The ceiling height would allow passengers to enter without stooping, for one thing, just like in minibuses. They will be safer because they feature side doors and front-facing seats with safety belts for each passenger. The modern jeepney would use automated cards for fare payment, similar to the LRT and MRT. They would also be equipped with a speed limiter. The new jeepneys would be airconditioned and equipped with global positioning system (GPS). And they would be powered by bio-ethanol fuel, thus reducing air pollution in the city since jeepneys now using second-hand diesel engines emit toxic fumes and contribute to heavy air pollution.
Lawyer Vigor Mendoza of the Kilusan sa Pagbabago ng Industriya ng Transportasyon (KAPIT) was our guest in the Saturday news forum at Annabel’s. He declared at the outset that his group supports the government move to modernize PUVs, especially jeepneys. He is pushing this advocacy through his Bagong Jeeps (BEEPS) project.
Mendoza informed the news forum that every jeepney serves an average of 300 passengers a day. Drivers can rack up between P3,000 to P4,000 gross sales daily, but the higher cost of diesel fuel nowadays brings their take-home pay to around P1,100. In contrast, a modern jeepney can make P10,000 a day, because passengers enjoy airconditioning and comfortable seats.
There are roughly 200,000 jeepney units nationwide at present. But each one has two to three drivers. So there’s roughly 400,000 to 600,000 jeepney drivers. Most of them have had limited education and therefore are low-skilled. So it’s important to train the drivers and mechanics in new technologies. The government should evaluate the program and see where change is needed, Mendoza said.
The public transport sector consumes about P6 billion worth of fuel every year, and half of that is consumed by jeepneys. They contribute to the national economy P36 billion a year, but not a single centavo goes to modernization, Mendoza lamented. Jeepney drivers cannot afford to buy new vehicles unless the government helps them, he pointed out.
“Most commuters are workers, but they have no choice but to take old, rickety jeepneys during rush hours, and they are packed like sardines. They have no choice really.”
The government has set a target of March 2020 for old jeepneys to be taken off the streets and replaced by modern units. But how can that goal be achieved without funding support, Mendoza asked. He said those who wanted to take part in the modernization program were promised a subsidy of P80,000 to purchase new units, but this has not happened. He suggested that part of the excise tax on fuel should be given as assistance to the public transport sector.
“All we want is fair and equal treatment,” he said.
Mendoza’s group supports a fixed-income scheme for jeepney drivers so they do not have to compete among themselves to get riders. Based on their calculation, if drivers work ten hours a day, they earn an average of a little over P1,000 a day. Some drivers even earn an average of P32,000 a month, working 10 hours a day and six days a week. Not bad, as they earn more than entry-level BPO workers. He said there’s even a financial analyst who works in Makati on weekdays, but drives a jeepney on weekends to supplement his income.
“Modernization is meaningless unless it improves the lives and well-being of jeepney drivers,” Mendoza says. “We must stop the practice of cramming jeepneys with passengers. And there are so many run-down jeepneys plying the roads. We must give passengers a better choice. If we stop modernization, ten years from now, we will still have the same problems, such as overcrowded jeepneys. So let’s pursue modernization, let’s improve the lives of everybody. We support modernization because the public deserve better.”