Old jeepneys may never be allowed to operate again, even as buses and modern jeepneys returned to service in some parts of Metro Manila amid the general community quarantine (GCQ), the Palace said Monday.
“I don’t think jeepneys can come back if we have enough means of transportation,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
He said the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is conducting an assessment to see if Metro Manila would have enough transportation if traditional jeepneys were phased out.
“The modern jeepneys will be supplemented by 3,600 buses to ferry commuters who had been inconvenienced by the lack of public transportation,” Roque said in a televised press briefing.
The operation of modern jeepneys on 15 routes in Metro Manila is in response to the need for mass transportation in Metro Manila, he said.
Traditional jeepneys are at the bottom of the government’s hierarchy of public transportation and would be deployed only if the supply of buses and modern jeepneys would still be insufficient to meet public demand, as will be determined by the LTFRB, the spokesman said.
Roque also disputed a statement from IBON Foundation that the traditional jeepneys are safer during a pandemic because droplets can stay longer in closed spaces, such as in modern jeepneys.
He pointed out that there is a higher chance of transmission in traditional jeepneys, where the passengers are seated facing each other, compared to when they are all seated facing one direction. Roque added that there is physical distancing in modern jeepneys.
Meanwhile, the Palace official said motorcycle back-riding will be allowed only for private motorcycles and not for motorcycle taxis like Angkas.
“The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases will come out with guidelines for pillion riding in private motorcycles,” he said.
Earlier, the IBON Foundation said thousands of small public utility jeepney (PUJ) drivers have lost as much as P78,000 each from three months of lockdown, during which they were not allowed to operate.
IBON also said the government was exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to keep small drivers and operators off the road to speed up its jeepney phaseout program.
The government suspended mass transport, including jeepneys when it declared an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon then in other parts of the country in mid-March. Quarantine measures have since eased to GCQ in many areas and public transport has resumed in phases, but jeepneys are still prohibited from operating.
The foundation said there are an estimated 55,000 to 70,000 jeepney drivers in Metro Manila.
Under an LTFRB memo on public transport guidelines in GCQ areas, only modern jeepneys and traditional jeepneys under a corporation or cooperative are allowed to operate.
READ: New round of aid eyed for PUJs
This leaves out small jeepney operators and drivers who, unlike big or corporate fleet operators, can ill-afford the costly P1.6 million to P2.2 million for modernized units, or steep fees and requirements to form a cooperative. They are even less able after three months of lost incomes and depleted savings, IBON said.
IBON's perspective was echoed by the Gabriela Women’s Party, which accused the government of using the COVID-19 pandemic to phase out traditional jeepneys.
Some 70,000 jeepney drivers stand to lose their routes in Metro Manila alone as modern PUVs control key thoroughfares starting June 22, Gabriela said.
Meanwhile, provincial bus operators asked the government to give them a fuel discount and to test their drivers and conductors for COVID-19 free of charge, to help them recover from the months-long lockdown.
In an interview with Dobol B sa News TV, Alex Yague, executive director of the Provincial Bus Operators Association of the Philippines said they are ready to resume operation but they need the help of the government.
“We're ready to operate again, but we are asking the authorities to test our drivers and conductors at no cost,” he said in Filipino.
The bus operators are also asking the government to allow them to drop off passengers at their terminals in Metro Manila instead of unloading them in an integrated bus terminal in Bocaue, Bulacan.
Yague said disallowing provincial buses from entering Metro Manila would force their passengers to get off at the Philippine Arena, take another ride to Monumento, and the third right to Makati.
Keeping passengers on the same bus ride would reduce the chances of infection, he added.
READ: Solon urges government to allow ‘moto’ taxis to operate
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