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Revolution in the commute, jeepney edition

opinion / Columnists
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Revolution in the commute, jeepney edition

/ 05:20 AM October 20, 2017

Jeepney modernization has been a long time coming. Even sentimental people (like me) who get sappy about the vehicle as an icon of Filipino culture will have to admit that we can no longer stand another century of smoke belching and middle-of-the-road breakdowns. We’re not even citing safety issues yet, and I’m not just talking about the lack of seatbelts: You’d be surprised how many times people have complained about getting poked by rusty metal parts protruding from prehistoric jeepney seats.

Thumbtack inconveniences aside, the real change we’re hoping for in this revolution is a more environment-friendly and efficient public transportation option. This change quite literally comes with a price, but that should have been expected, discussed, and agreed on by all parties involved. Sadly, it apparently has not.

We look, first, at our nonnegotiable objectives. For so long we’ve been calling for cleaner air on our streets, less dependency on unsteadily priced nonrenewable fuels, and more reliable public transport. These are no longer luxuries but real needs at this point. And these needs can be addressed by modern jeepneys that have engines and designs compliant with local and international standards.

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On the other hand, we cannot ignore the looming hurdles to this new program, foremost of which is: How can jeepney drivers afford these new vehicles? Given an average driver’s income, this financial quandary seems to be more than something that transport groups have cherry-picked just to have something to complain about. It’s a real concern that, if not addressed, could cause the program to collapse on itself.

Consider this estimate from Carmudi Philippines: With each modern unit costing from P1.2 to P1.6 million, a jeepney driver would have to pay P800 a day for seven years—even with the government subsidy and the program’s bank financing scheme. The catch, according to Carmudi, is that an average jeepney driver earns only about P600 a day.

Aside from the obvious and crucial concern for the drivers’ livelihood, apprehensions have also been raised that this steep, almost impossible, price would only worsen motorist behavior. To make their daily cut, jeepney drivers might be more compelled to overcrowd every single trip, bend more traffic rules, ignore safe driving practices, and scrimp on vehicle maintenance. These ultimately defeat one of the main goals of the program, which is to improve the Filipino commute.

The jeepney modernization program was launched in June and was pushed months and months before then. But all those months did not seem to be enough time for the program’s proponents to meet halfway with the people it will affect most, the jeepney drivers.

As the program will be gradually implemented, perhaps there will still be room for the Department of Transportation to welcome adjustments that would better square the costs with the benefits. For one, the new jeepney prototypes have features we can live without, such as wi-fi and air-conditioning. We don’t need to be on Facebook while commuting; we just want to get to our destination safely, on time, and not slowly dying of lung cancer.

Further, for the longer term, new policies and regulations may have to be introduced to support jeepney drivers who are already saddled with economic burdens. After all, we have long overlooked their struggles, through fuel price hikes, through floods, through kotong, through traffic-plagued holiday seasons. It may be time to reconsider what little support drivers receive.

The jeepney modernization program could actually become an opportunity to also improve how drivers get through their day, with more efficient vehicles in their hands. That is, if they can still afford it. That is why in this revolution, it is the drivers who should be ushered to the forefront instead of being left behind.

As a daily commuter, a supporter of the environment, a believer in disruption, a former asthmatic, and a repeated victim of rusty jeepney parts, I welcome the newer, better jeepneys. But as an average Filipino who still sees P1.2 million as a huge amount of money to raise, I hope this modernization program and jeepney drivers can arrive at a true middle ground.

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TAGS: Jeepney modernization, Public transportation
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