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1-mo. window opens for PUVs

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LTFRB to allow jeeps that fail to join co-ops to ply some routes ‘til Jan. 31

Jeepneys that fail to join a cooperative or corporation after the Dec. 31 deadline under the government’s Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) will still be allowed to operate until Jan. 31, 2024 to avoid a shortage of public transportation.

This was the gist of a memo released by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), even as its mother agency, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) ruled out an extension of the Dec. 31 deadline to consolidate.

“In order not to hamper the operation of public transportation routes without consolidated TSEs (transport service entities), the individual operators in said routes shall be allowed to operate until 31 January 2024,” the LTFRB memo said.

“During this period, show cause orders shall be issued by the (LTFRB) board and its regional franchising regulatory offices to the unconsolidated individual operators in compliance with the provisions of the Public Service Act,” it added.

Under LTFRB Memorandum Circular 2023-052, the agency said the leeway granted to drivers and operators would ensure that commuters would not suffer the brunt of a possible shortage of public transportation, particularly traditional jeepneys,

The consolidation into a corporation or cooperative is the first phase of the PUVMP, while the second phase is route rationalization, which will begin on Jan. 1, 2024.

The LTFRB gave the drivers and operators until Dec. 31 to consolidate, saying they would not be allowed to ply their routes otherwise.

The latest memo, however, in effect extends the deadline because it lets unconsolidated franchise holders continue operating.

At least 154,000 PUV units or 70 percent of the total are expected to consolidate before the end of 2023. Drivers and operators from two major groups, Piston and Manibela, have gone on strike to protest the PUVMP.

In preparation for the possible shakeout, the LTFRB is coordinating with local government units to rationalize routes and identify those that may be affected by the program.

It may also issue special permits to operate on routes without consolidated PUV units for three months after Jan. 31, 2024, but these will only be available to drivers and operators who were able to consolidate.

Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista, meanwhile, said there would be no extension of the Dec. 31 deadline, noting that a majority of PUV operators or about 70 percent or some 154,000 of them have already consolidated.

But in Metro Manila, some 73.5 percent or 31,058 traditional jeepneys have yet to be consolidated ahead of the deadline. On top of this, 66 percent of jeepneys are not yet consolidated in Calabarzon. In the Zamboanga Peninsula, the figure is 63 percent.

The LTFRB said rationalized and efficiently planned routes would be responsive to the demands of commuters.

The DOTr said that “all major routes or thoroughfares” in Metro Manila are now being operated by consolidated transport groups.

Secondary routes without consolidated entities, on the other hand, will be served by other modes of public transport, the DOTr said.

Meanwhile, jeepney drivers and operators led by Piston who contested the PUVMP before the Supreme Court suffered a setback when the magistrates did not issue a temporary restraining order they requested against the government program before the Dec. 31 deadline.

However, the Court required the DOTr and the LTFRB to comment on the petition within 10 days from the receipt of the order.

The PUVMP will be enforced starting Jan. 1. Among other things, the program would cancel existing franchises of all public utility jeepneys (PUJs) and consolidate them under transport cooperatives and corporations.

The petitioners argued that the program and the orders and circulars detailing it were unconstitutional, as they violated the guaranteed freedom of association, right to due process, right to equal protection under the law, right against unreasonable seizures and the right to gainful employment and livelihood.

Striking jeepney drivers said the government preparations cannot prevent a looming transport crisis next week, when traditional jeepneys could be forced to stop operating as a result of unmet PUVMP requirements.

Piston president Mody Floranda said if a big proportion of jeepneys vanish from the transport system, this would have a huge effect, not only on drivers, but also on commuters and the economy as a whole.

The militant labor group Partido Manggagawa (PM) argued that more than 144,000 jeepney drivers would lose their livelihoods once the government implements the modernization program.

In a statement, the PM said that individual operators of the old jeepneys can no longer operate after the Dec. 31 deadline this year, unless they join a corporation or a cooperative.

“At the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, 144,000 will lose their livelihoods. This is conservatively estimated as one operator and one driver for the 74,000 jeepney units which have not been consolidated either into cooperatives or corporations,” the group said.

The labor group said the 144,000 would swell the ranks of the 2,090,000 unemployed Filipinos as of October 2023.

Also on Thursday, Senator Imee Marcos appealed to the DOTr to withdraw its deadline for the PUVMP.

“It is clear that there is a need for all operators, drivers and commuters to return to an extensive meeting and consultation,” Marcos said.

“Who doesn’t want a new vehicle? But with the difficulties we are facing, who has money to pay (for a new vehicle),” she asked.

Marcos noted that the P280,000 subsidy for drivers and operators to buy a new vehicle was only a small portion of the P2.5 million needed to buy a modern PUV. She added that there is even no trade-in value for an old jeepney.

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