The sad plight of jeepney operators
When jeepney drivers go on strike, the government surrenders to the immensity of their power by suspending work and school classes.
The ability of a jeepney drivers’ strike to cripple the whole country speaks of their enormous importance in the lives of our people, and proves that they perform an indispensable public function.
Public transportation is a community need. For this reason, it is the inherent duty of the government to provide this public necessity. But since the government has been unable to provide public transport to its citizens, it has delegated the responsibility to private operators.
The government has long been regulating public transport operators with an absolute lack of support for them. It views community transport operators as individuals who are merely out to milk money from the riding public. The consequence of this attitude is that the rules imposed on these operators are cold, passive, and heavy on prohibitory rules. The regulations are absolutely lacking in any form of assistance or incentive that should demonstrate gratitude to and encouragement of these operators who perform public service in place of an inadequate government.
The government should pause and ponder on the possibility that many of these transport operators act as pure-profit enterprises because they are driven to act as such by the government itself. There’s not a hint of support to transport operators in order to make them feel that they are treated as the government’s partner in rendering public service.
Recently, the government rolled out its Public Utility Vehicles (PUV) Modernization Program. Jeepney operators have been ordered to discard their 15-year-old vehicles and to buy modern jeepney versions that cost P1.6 million each.
The program compels transport operators to buy a new jeepney that has a Euro 4 or electrically powered engine, solar panel roofs, CCTV camera, Wi-Fi capability, global positioning system or GPS, automatic fare collection system, speed limiter, and dashboard camera.
In other words, the government is shoving down the throat of transport operators the financial risk and burden of modernizing the country’s fleet of public transportation.
And what government assistance is given to private operators under this program? The government’s subsidy of P80,000 per unit is a mere droplet compared to the cost of P1.6 million of each new jeepney. The P1.5-billion loan facility offered by the Development Bank of the Philippines will amount to only P8,300 in loan credit for each of the 180,000 jeepneys that will be replaced. The 6-percent interest per year and 7-year repayment period are as harshly unaffordable as the loan conditions of private banks. The requirement to obtain a new franchise for the new jeepney, despite the unexpired franchise of the old one, is a heartless and senseless imposition.
The government should modernize the country’s public transportation system by acting as a real partner of transport operators. Instead of entirely imposing upon these operators the vehicle advancements it demands, the government should substantially support the modern bus-like jeepneys, either with outright capital subsidy or generously liberal loan terms.
In lieu of the billions of pesos it will spend for more Point-to-Point or P2P buses in added routes in Metro Manila, the government should consider becoming a financial and operating partner in the acquisition and operation of the modern bus-like jeepneys.
By doing so, the government will have the moral, financial, legal, and operational ascendancy to impose radical reforms in our public transportation system, with streamlined routes, overhauled compensation schemes, and stiff disciplinary penalties.
The government provides huge incentives and support to billionaire businessmen who put up new train systems. Our roads are no different from train tracks, and our jeepneys are no different from train coaches. Why the heartless bias against the barely surviving jeepney operators?
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