The government launched last June 19 what it calls the Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Modernization Program. Spearheaded by the Department of Transportation, the program is aimed at providing a safe and comfortable transport system, predictable travel time for commuters, and disciplined and competent drivers.
The most controversial component of the program is the phaseout of all old PUVs such as buses and public vans and about 200,000 jeepneys. From a tourist attraction decades ago, the ubiquitous jeepney has become a symbol of inefficiency as it contributes to traffic congestion and pollutes the air.
The idea is to replace old PUVs with eco-friendly vehicles powered by engines compliant with international environment standards or electrically powered, with solar panels for roofs. These vehicles are intended to be accessible to both senior citizens and persons with disability, and equipped with safety and convenience features such as CCTV cameras, GPS navigation, an automatic fare collection system, Wi-Fi, speed limiters and dashboard cameras.
The Board of Investments plans to have the concept vehicle for eco-friendly PUVs ready before the end of the year. According to Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, who also serves as BOI chair, deliberations are being conducted on the design of the main vehicle for the PUV manufacturing program; he describes it as “a modern solution and a modern design for PUVs that are more efficient and safer.”
Another component of the program is the new Omnibus Franchising Guidelines—necessary because under the existing setup, there are hundreds of franchisers that have become very inefficient and difficult to regulate. Chair Martin Delgra III of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board says the government wants these franchisers to form cooperatives or corporations for easier regulation. This aspect will include the updating of transport routes nationwide, to be done in cooperation with local government units. The LGUs are to propose their own set of transport routes which the LTFRB will examine for recommendations and revisions before approval. The approved route plans will then be consolidated to form the Local Public Transport Route Plan.
Yet another important part of the program is the training of drivers. The LTFRB is to put up an academy that will teach not just the technicalities of driving but also how to be a responsible PUV operator, which involves safety measures in operating PUVs and proper behavior when dealing with passengers. More importantly, under the modernization program jeepney drivers are to be considered employees and provided with regular salaries and benefits so that they would not be driven to compete over passengers by the prevailing boundary system.
The whole PUV modernization program will involve not only the DOTr and LGUs but also the Departments of Finance and of Budget and Management for the financing component. The state-owned Development Bank of the Philippines has initially been identified as the lending conduit to provide loans for those who will upgrade to the eco-friendly PUVs.
Moving forward, the phaseout of old PUVs is expected to again spark outrage among operators and drivers who insist that it will lead to loss of livelihood. But if it is implemented properly, the PUV modernization program will eventually lead to the gradual phaseout of jeepneys, which would be replaced with environment-friendly vehicles. As Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III pointed out, this would help “clear the air, make commuting safer for the public, and contribute to a more rational public transport system.”
The bigger picture is that the program will make an important contribution to the fight against climate change, help unclog Metro Manila’s roads, and make commuting a more pleasant activity for traffic-weary citizens.
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