The jeepney crisis
Metro commuters are being hit by a one-two punch in the form of the crumbling MRT3 train system that is logging the worst record in public service and the government’s drive against dilapidated jeepneys that is stranding thousands in the streets.
On its face, “Tanggal Bulok, Tanggal Usok” is a worthy campaign, the goal being to modernize passenger jeepneys so as to ensure commuter safety and curb air pollution. But making up for the removal of old, smoke-belching jeepneys by deploying government trucks to ferry commuters just isn’t enough.
The campaign has been implemented since Jan. 1 by the Inter-Agency Council on Traffic (I-ACT).
In October, responding to a strike mounted by jeepney drivers and operators in protest of the planned modernization drive, President Duterte memorably said: “If you can’t modernize that, leave. You’re poor? Son of a bitch, go ahead, suffer in poverty and hunger, I don’t care.”
I-ACT has been using the Department of Transportation’s motor vehicle inspection systems to test jeepney emissions on busy roads.
I-ACT personnel also conduct a visual inspection of a jeepney’s condition.
Those driving outdated, polluting jeepneys are not allowed to continue their routes. Many drivers who worry about being apprehended just don’t go out. The unfortunate side effect: Commuters get stranded because there are not enough vehicles for them.
An illuminating example is the I-ACT operation last Feb. 8, when it cracked down on jeepneys plying routes on the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City, with teams at University Avenue, Commonwealth Avenue, Katipunan Avenue and C.P. Garcia Avenue.
I-ACT spokesperson and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory board member Aileen Lizada said 97 jeepneys were caught, with 22 failing the antismoke-belching test and 55 found operating in violation of Republic Act No. 4136, or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code.
But while the dirty jeepneys were taken off the roads, hundreds of students and workers were left high and dry. Ten solar-powered jeepneys were deployed, but these did little to remedy the situation.
Under the campaign, old jeepneys will be bought by the government for scrap. They will be replaced with hybrid, electric, or fully Euro-4-compliant jeepneys, which operators and/or drivers have to pay for, through a promised government subsidy and amortization. But drivers say the cost of each new unit (P1.2-1.6 million) is simply too high.
Industry groups have dubbed the modernization program a “phaseout,” and said as many as 650,000 drivers will be displaced.
They are not comforted by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s assurance, issued in December: “We assure Filipino jeepney drivers that this initiative of the government to improve our public transport sector will not put them out of business. It was not designed to phase out jeepneys. In fact, the program aims to strengthen and guarantee the profitability of the jeepney business.”
Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services, has sought to find solutions to the burgeoning problem. With the “many things to be ironed out,” she wants to know what implementation guidelines the DOTr has come up with. “All the details should be laid on the table because as far as the ordinary jeepney drivers are concerned, it is their livelihood that is at stake here,” she said.
Rightly, Poe also reminded striking jeepney groups to remember who their actions are really hurting: “The lack of transportation hits the commuters hard and disrupts work and classes.”
The government’s intent to rid the streets of dilapidated, air-polluting jeepneys is commendable, but sufficient thought must be given to commuters who are being adversely affected by it, as well as the drivers who fear the loss of their livelihood.
Alternative transport such as the deployment of government trucks and buses is important, but must be done in enough numbers to make a difference to commuters.
In the end, this boils down to political will on the government’s part: to weed out the dangerous vehicles but ensure that it can take up the slack.
Commuters should not be given, on top of the hassles of daily living, the additional worry of not finding a ride when they leave home for work or school. And drivers/operators should consider the wisdom of meeting the government halfway in this project.
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