Recently, jeepney operators took to the streets in defiance of the government’s call to modernize the so called “King of the Road”. Apparently, the operators of these derelicts on wheels decided to declare another “holiday” and whoever was leading them did not explain in detail the Department of Transportation and Communication plans to upgrade the public transport system.
For decades, the jeepney has reigned supreme as the primary means of mass transportation. While the beloved jeepney symbolizes Filipino culture, it has become inefficient and is a major contributor to the traffic gridlock that we experience everyday. Another issue why jeepneys need to be modernized is their harmful contribution to the environment. All of these jeepneys are equipped with surplus engines from Japan, which are considered as “junk”. Like any enterprising Pinoy, most engines are top overhauled just to make them run, without any thought or care for the carbon footprint made by thousands of these derelicts roaming the streets of our country. Then there is the issue of safety, jeepneys are the third highest in casualty ratings with 2,161 units involved in accidents says a report from the MMDA last year. Most jeepney related accidents are due to brake failure, and loss of steering control. The MMDA also pointed out the “roadworthiness” of PUJ’s, all of which have parts sourced from surplus parts from different light truck manufacturers. Think of it as a Frankenstein on four wheels.
Earlier last month, a group of jeepney operators went on a “holiday” as a protest to the government’s call for modernization of the jeepney. “There should have been a public consultation on this matter,” argued Obet Martin, President of PASANG MASDA (Pangkalahatang Sanggunian Manila and Suburbs Drivers Association). Once implemented, the modernization plan will affect 650,000 drivers. PASANG MASDA is arguing that the government has no concrete plans about the phase-out, “They have no alternatives for us. What they are offering is expensive,” says the spokesman for PASANG MASDA. From a commuter’s perspective, modernization is for everyone’s benefit. The question now is, is there a concrete or realistic plan for the jeepney modernization program? Why don’t we prioritize the immediate needs of the commuting public, like improving the train and MRT systems, and how to regulate the buses plying EDSA to decongest the flow of traffic.
At the moment, our government is offering the e-Jeepney, a hybrid modern jeepney which will cost one million pesos per unit. Add to this the seven million franchise fee, then you have a very expensive jeepney, but very environment friendly. “Our primary goal is to make jeepneys safer and more eco-friendly,” says the DOTC.” It is a small price to pay for our children’s future and for the preservation of our environment,” says the DOTC. The bright minds of our government must realize that majority of these jeepney operators belong to the marginalized and working class sectors. Is there a realistic financial aid plan in place, in case the Jeepney modernization plan takes effect sometime soon? There are a lot questions than answers.
My suggestion is, make the e-jeepney more affordable so that the operators can embrace the modernization plan. Those who claim that they cannot afford it, well, better retire or look for another job. There must come a time that everybody must follow the rule of law. The government will not bend backwards for you my dear jeepney operators. For their part, e-Jeepney manufacturers must make their units affordable, reliable and rugged, able to withstand pot-holed streets. For the meantime, this writer remains a fence sitter, looking forward to the next move of both parties concerned.