Despite protests from public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers, the Palace said Tuesday traditional jeepneys may be allowed to ply their routes only if they are roadworthy and if the government finds that there is a shortage of public transportation.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque also denied that the government is using the coronavirus pandemic to gradually phase out the old jeepneys by allowing only the modern jeepneys to ply their routes in Metro Manila.
“Should authorities find that traditional jeepneys are still needed, the government would allow these to operate,” Roque said.
This drew the ire of jeepney drivers' groups under the Stop and Go Coalition and Piston (Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide), saying it was clear that the move was anti-poor and that only rich businessmen would profit from the government's planned phaseout program.
“We support the rehabilitation of the PUV sector but oppose a phaseout of the venerable jeepney, an icon of the post-war era,” said Stop and Go Coalition president Jun Magno.
George San Mateo, Piston president, said in a radio interview that the program would lead to killing off small PUV cooperatives and single-unit jeepney operators. He said the government wants to replace small operators with larger corporate-type franchisees.
The traditional jeeneys were prohibited from plying their regular routes since the March 15, after President Duterte placed the entire Luzon under the enhanced community quarantine until June 1.
The government relaxed public transportation restrictions on June 22, but traditional jeepneys have not been allowed to operate because their seating arrangements—with passengers facing each other—were deemed unsafe during a pandemic.
Roque said the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is still studying if traditional jeepneys should be allowed to operate again.
Transportation officials previously told congressional hearings that traditional jeepney operators should form cooperatives and consortiums so they can acquire at least 10 of the modern jeepneys offered at P1.4 million each under the government’s PUV modernization program,
Also, the Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday warned the passengers on a jeepney would be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because of the vehicles’s layout.
“We already know that there is a huge risk with jeepneys because passengers sit face-to-face. Unlike in buses where you are not sitting in front of another person,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario told reporters when asked if jeepneys were actually safer because they are open-air.
“The mode of transmission is droplet infection. With or without aircon [in a vehicle], as long as you are all wearing masks, and you are at a distance from the person next toyou and you are not cramped, the possibility of getting infected is very low,” Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“With aircon or without aircon, if you do not wear your mask, you will get infected,” Vergeire said.
Vergeire said she would not recommend the return of traditional jeepneys as a mode of public transport since the traditional open-air jeepneys have to be reconfigured to meet minimum health standards.
“The risks in riding a jeepney are great,” she said in Filipino. “Their seats face each other, not like on a bus.”
She also questioned if jeepney drivers would comply with physical distancing regulations, since they won’t have the money to maintain spacing between seats.
Leftist groups maintained their attack on the government policy to phase out jeepneys.
“The Duterte regime is cunningly carrying out the much-opposed jeepney phaseout under the guise of upholding physical distancing,” said Ariel Casilao, a former representative of the Anakpawis party-list group. “Moreover, its deployment of modern public utility vehicles reeks of opportunism, totally neglecting the impact on the affected sectors.”
Senator Francis Pangilinan on Tuesday urged the government to immediately allow jeepney and UV Express drivers get back on the road to ease the transportation woes of commuters.
“Everyday, the public is burdened. If we allow jeepneys and UV express o return to the roads, we are solving two problems: transportation for commuters and jobs for jeepney at UV Express drivers,” he said.
Pangilinan said that unlike jeepneys and UV Express, P2P buses can only serve on major highways, forcing commuters to walk for kilometers from their homes to bus stops..
Despite the urgent need, Pangilinan said he wonders why government appears to be discriminating against traditional jeepneys and UV Express vans.
He said that insisting on modernization in this time of pandemic is “insensitive and ill-timed.”
Senator Grace Poe said the safety and well-being of passengers should be the foremost consideration as more transport options become available.
"Our commuters, drivers and enforcers should not forsake social distancing, wearing face masks, regular disinfection and other protocols against COVID-19,” Poe said.
She called on transportation officials to continually make a data-driven assessment on the demand for transportation as businesses slowly reopen with the easing up of quarantine restrictions.
She said public transportation should complement the increasing number of economic activities so as not to leave the burden on commuting workers.
Senator Christopher Go said the government would look into making adjustments that can address the transportation needs of the general public without compromising their health and safety.
"Our goal here is to give our countrymen safe transportation options and in accordance with health protocols while we are still under a community quarantine measures," he said.