When Davao City Mayor Digong Duterte was asked in a nationwide radio interview how he would phase out our 15-year-old jeepneys, he replied without any hesitation that he would first strengthen the mass rapid transportation system and then deploy them to service the shorter routes in-between the MRT stations and those that are not usually served.
In other words, he would not completely phase out but still integrate this quarter of a million jeepneys into our transportation system.
That sounded very reasonable technically. From the political standpoint, it was also palatable because our jeepney drivers were not being excluded from our daily lives although they would have to abdicate their thrones as “Kings of the Road.”
He must have realized that millions of our low-and middle-income citizens still patronize jeepneys for short and even long intra-city trips, not minding being cramped together inside these jeepneys that are often overloaded and blaring with their loud music to attract passengers.
As he had often observed, “every time a jeepney stopped to pick up passengers, there was a mad scramble among the poor commuters.”
His approach to the phaseout was so unlike what officials of the Land Transportation Office have contemplated: Replace 90 percent of these jeepneys with modern units. Their plan, which was outlined in their draft memorandum circular, unfortunately, was carelessly leaked to the leaders of jeepney associations.
Thus, when threatened with a nationwide jeepney strike, these LTO officials denied the phaseout saying that the draft remained unsigned and would not be implemented.
Certainly, my senior citizen friends and I couldn’t help but think that Mayor DU30 had been forewarned about the question and given enough coaching on how to handle this very sensitive issue about our most popular means of public transportation.
Most of these fuel-inefficient and smoke-belching jeepneys—we think—are being driven by reckless macho drivers who behave as if they were still “Kings of the Road.”
Indeed, we car owners have started to blame for our traffic woes the jeepneys and their less efficient and more smoke-belching cousins, the tricycles. We suspect, though, that daily commuters are blaming us car owners for driving our cars with only us as passengers and using the roads inefficiently on a per capita basis.
Of course, we are also quick in blaming government for our traffic woes. By paying traffic enforcers very low salaries, it is getting the unconcerned and untrained, some of whom prefer extracting “kotong” from gullible violators than enforcing traffic rules.
Despite the rapid increase in vehicles, the government has not added new roads nor widened them.
Many among us still don’t realize that President Ferdinand Marcos has given us a solution to our traffic problems as early as September 1981. Ahead of our now more prosperous neighbors Singapore and Thailand, he has constructed an elevated light railway or rapid transit that cut across the heart of Metro Manila from Baclaran to and from Monumento.
It first opened on Dec. 1, 1984 and was completed on May 12, 1985. It was a highly subsidized system that earned its first profit only 20 years after, in 2005.
It took another 11 years, or by Oct. 15, 1996, for government to resume constructing another line over Edsa. This happened during President Fidel Ramos’ administration. The first section from North Avenue to Buendia was completed on Dec. 15, 1999, and its extension to Baclaran, on July 20, 2000. President Joseph Estrada inaugurated both openings.
These mass rapid transits have operated quite well as dependable means of transportation. They are economical and fast without the usual delays associated with ordinary bus and jeepney travels.
But toward the second half of PNoy’s administration, they have become unreliable and plagued with dangerous breakdowns.
Even in early June, Mayor DU30 has already disclosed his views about transportation—“Subsidizing mass transport would greatly help the country’s bleeding economy…Government must really shoulder part of the transport cost of ordinary wage earners and office workers to ensure equitable and inclusive human development in the city… those who will use it are ordinary people who earn very little.”
“We would like our workers to be productive, but how could they be productive when they come to work late and tired because of the jostling to get a ride, not to mention the fact that a huge chunk of their daily earnings go to their transportation fare?”
He promised a different government, stating that:
“I can’t imagine why our government could be so insensitive to the plight of the poor workers. Not only is public transport so expensive, it demeans the human beings who are cramped inside the MRT and LRT like cattle.”
Already, Mayor DU30’s Davao City has announced that the Korea Engineering and Construction has started doing the feasibility study for a 13.6-kilometer railway system in the city.
Win or lose in his presidential bid, we would soon witness how Mayor DU30 has again demonstrated how to solve an emerging transportation problem in the same successful way he has made his city a peaceful and progressive metropolis.