The Irony of the Jeepney Modernization Program

Posted on Posted in 2019, News

Written by: Gianina C. Respicio

Artwork by: Lexa Burroughes

Jeepney Illustration by Jaime M. Laurel from the Noun Project

The problem of mobility in the metro has been quite the norm for daily commuters. During rush hour, they hastily line up for a Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) even though the line’s already reaching thirty meters. At times, the rides arrive fast. Sometimes, they take more than half an hour. Time unpredictability coupled with discomfort, lack of security, noise and air pollution are issues the commuter faces on a daily basis. Imagine the toll it has on their overall well-being. The uncertainty of being able to arrive on time for work or school stirs up a kind of anxiety wherein they feel like they need to be on the move or else, they will be late or stuck in traffic. The time ideally, supposedly for more productive work, is spent on waiting in line and on the road. Hence, the problem of mobility is not just physical but also social and economical. 

Consequently, those who don’t have much of a budget constraint on their daily fare are more inclined to use private cars or ride-hailing services. Although private cars prove to be more comfortable and safer, they take too much space on the road for the number of people they occupy. This leads to the already obnoxious traffic congestion to worsen. In the report Metropolitan Manila Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) 2018, out of all the vehicles that pass through the metro’s main highways, 53.70% are private cars. This is much higher specifically in EDSA, wherein they compose 65.57% of the total daily traffic.

 

In 1995, efforts have been made to limit the use of road vehicles—both public and private— through the Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP) also called as the Number Coding scheme. While it seems inescapable, the inconvenience caused along with an obsolete public transportation system prompt firms and workers to adapt by purchasing additional vehicles. With loans being more accessible and borrowing options more diverse, the program can be easily adapted to. The UVVRP has potential with the right revisions but it is still not enough. Insufficient, ineffective, and counterproductive solutions may hike up the country’s daily economic losses from PHP 3.5 billion to a staggering PHP 5.4 billion by 2035, according to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

With this, the need to improve public transportation has long been overdue. Access to wider market bases, increased productivity, and employment opportunities await when mobility becomes easier. As one of the initiatives, in 2017, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) launched the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) which calls to phase-out jeepneys, buses, and other PUVs that are at least 15 years old. With 180,000 jeepneys on the road, they are the focus of the PUVMP. Specifically, under the PUVMP, is the jeepney modernization program. 

What does the jeepney modernization call for?

The program can be broken down into two general parts. First, future jeepney franchises will be limited to an entity that owns and operates at least 10 jeepneys. Hence, what existing operators of fewer than 10 jeepneys can do is to band together to form a cooperative or corporation—a franchise consolidation. The reason for this is to create better economies of scale (hence avoiding the tragedy of the commons) and a more consistent standard of operation. Second is the purchase of a new vehicle—the modern jeepney—which costs around PHP 1.4 million to PHP 1.6 million. This is a lot more expensive than current, “non modern” jeepneys which cost around PHP 600,000 to PHP 700,000. Other second hand jeepneys can even be purchased at around PHP 150,000 to PHP 200,000. The modern jeepney requires for Euro-4 compliant or electric engines with solar panels, CCTV, GPS, dashboard camera, front-facing seats, and exits on the right-hand side. To make it compatible with the metro’s train lines, it will use an automated fare collection system. These requirements are said to make jeepney rides safer, affordable, environment-friendly thereby encouraging the public to take public transport.

Why is it taking so long?

Though the intentions of the UVVRP are promising, the implementation is very behind schedule. Of the targeted number of 85,000 modernized jeepneys needed by the end of July 2020, only 2,595 are in operation. Transport groups such as the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston), Alliance of Concerned Transport Organization (Acto), and the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) have continuously gone against the phaseout of jeepneys. Because jeepney franchises will be limited to those with at least 10 operators, they argue that this will lead big business to takeover thereby displacing them—small-time jeepney drivers and operators. This is why they label the program as “anti-poor” and “profit-oriented”. Moreover, inasmuch as they want to modernize their jeepneys, the amount that they have to pay is simply too much. The government may give a maximum subsidy of PHP 80,000 (which would cover most of the 5% down payment for the purchase), the monthly amortization would be approximately PHP 21,000 for 7 years, inclusive of the 6% interest rate.

The problem with this is that jeepney drivers and operators only earn an average of 500-600 pesos per day, according to Piston. Though the DOTr is confident that the earnings will be more under the jeepney modernization program, so far, there is not yet a projected amount that the drivers will earn. Given the uncertainty and meager earnings, it’s difficult to convince operators to risk taking a loan that will take them 7 years to pay off—PHP 21,000 for 84 months. In contrast to the woes of jeepney drivers and operators, the DOTr says that the amount is “very low” and “affordable”.

Because of the frustratingly glacial progress, the DOTr just recently dropped its bid to modernize all jeepneys by 2020. Instead, old jeepneys are still allowed to operate even after the transition period as long as they pass the Motor Vehicle Inspection System. Meanwhile, the franchise consolidation aspect will still be upheld. Interestingly, this was after Toyota Motor Philippines revealed its new prototype of a Class 1 vehicle for the PUVMP. The vehicle costs P998,000 and could only seat 12 people. Many aired their concerns online, finding faults especially with its appearance and size.  

What are the drivers asking?

The seemingly promising effects of the jeepney modernization could only go so far without the support of jeepney drivers and operators. Hence in 2020, the DOTr will open routes to operators who are willing to abide by the requirements of the jeepney modernization program. Especially after the released photo of the Class 1 prototype, the efficiency is questionable given that current jeepneys can carry 16-24 people. If the goal is to lessen the vehicles on the road, the seat occupancy is not reasonable. 

The problem of our jeepney drivers and operators is simple: they cannot afford the modern jeepney. They’re not against progress; it’s just too expensive. The monthly amortization is too much, and the operator may be forced to increase the daily boundary to cover the expense. This “boundary” is some kind of rent expense paid to the owner of the vehicle (the operator). The driver covers the cost of fuel and maintenance of the vehicle. Hence, it may be zero-sum to the driver. The boundary system traps the driver into working for longer than normal hours, fitting as many passengers as possible, making rapid stops to maximize their time. This erratic behavior coming from the driver is one of the reasons why the DOTr calls for the jeepney modernization program—to train drivers to be disciplined on the road. Although, they fail to realize that the boundary system is quite to blame. If drivers’ wages were regulated, the DOTr would only need to convince operators. If the government is truly sincere and eager in easing traffic congestion, why has it failed to consider the capacity of existing jeepney drivers and operators to pay back their loans under the financing plan? 

Now, where do we turn? Or more importantly, can we still make a turn?

Unnecessary government spending, red tape, and politics impede the progress towards a modernized transportation system. The plight jeepney drivers and operators in response to the jeepney modernization program has to be considered; if not, they will be out of employment and will be forced to work elsewhere, most likely under profit-seeking operators. The dismissive attitude of the DOTr does not allow the most affected—jeepney drivers and operators—to be included in the conversation. It’s ironic—those who move people are those who are immobilized. What does this mean?

Mobility is a business. The transfers of ownership to big businesses and foreign investors will cause unabated fare hikes says Ustarez, the KMU Executive Vice Chairman. Under big-time operators, the PUVMP prompts the public to use public transportation at the cost of further social and economic immobility, considering that majority of those who depend on jeepney rides are small earners. Public transportation being controlled by entities which are focused on profit-making may displace those with meager earnings further. Under the implementation of the jeepney modernization program will an existing unfair economic structure be continued.

Certainly, the boundary system is one of the many culprits of the country’s obsolete transportation system. But then, fixing it will most likely be another glacial process for it has been the system since 1952. Perhaps what the DOTr can best do for now is to adjust the financing plan—increase the subsidy, lessen the interest rate, or lengthen the term of the loan (to a maximum of 15 years, the jeepney’s useful life). If not or also, they can shoulder the maintenance expense of the modern jeepney to increase the revenue of the driver. These adjustments could make jeepney modernization more attractive to those who have been serving in jeepney transportation for years. Additionally, the DOTr could present legitimate and realistic figures to convince that paying the loan is feasible and will eventually pay off in the long run. They should also keep a sharp eye on the boundaries—that they are fair and reasonable—considering the driver’s daily earnings. This will give them more assurance as opposed to just saying: “we assure you that you will earn more.”

With physical, social, and economic immobility pressing on the country’s most hard-working workers, modernization should not be a matter of who can afford it, but rather, a matter of making it affordable to those who are asked to be the main players.

It is, after all, the least of what they deserve.

References

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Tuquero, L. (2019, November 20). DOTr drops bid to modernize all jeepneys by 2020. Retrieved from https://www.rappler.com/nation/245415-dotr-drops-bid-modernize-all-jeepneys. 

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