A silent commuter revolution
The Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston) continues to oppose the jeepney modernization program of the government. The government, meantime, incrementally bends backward to arrive at a compromise that may eventually defeat the comprehensive public utility vehicle modernization program, as in the past where the status quo prevailed. With the June 2020 deadline for the complete replacement of the old jeepneys with modern Euro 4 emission-compliant engines merely months away, the stalemate will likely be in favor of the immutable jeepney system. The government, once again, will blink.
But Metro Manila commuters are silently voting with their choices of ways to get to the office, school, malls and other destinations in Metro Manila. The shifts in their preferences are what will define the shape of transport in Metro Manila, and not so much what the government has planned.
Many commuters would not have otherwise considered riding on the back of a motorcycle, driven by a driver who is a complete stranger, and putting on a helmet that must have been previously on scores of sweaty heads. But the traffic congestion has so become desperate and frantic that Metro Manilans have learned to adjust. The granularity of vehicles tends toward smallness, as filtering through the traffic congestion becomes a viable individualistic alternative while the promised mass public transport system is in limbo. In addition to walking and the use of bicycles, motorcycles and e-bikes, an increasing number of youths and young professionals have taken to the electric scooter to zip through traffic congestion.
This Angkas mode of travel comes on top of others that have been embraced by Metro Manilans in short order over the past few years. The initial Uber mode taken over by Grab seemed touch-and-go at the start, as the LTFRB grappled clumsily with the novelty of regulating a transport service that was unfamiliar. But the birth pains have been survived, and the TNVS (transport network vehicle services) mode is here to stay. Many Metro Manilans are now freed from the need to use their own cars, which in turn frees a corresponding amount of parking space in the inner city. Grab food and other delivery services by motorcycles followed logically. And now, the delivery of passengers themselves through Angkas is becoming commonplace.
Soon, other innovations will follow. I will not be surprised if somebody will invent an “Angkasbulance” on a motorcycle. In heavy traffic, this is the only way a critically ill patient can reach the emergency room on time, apart from the ambulance helicopter services presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the government can provide. Ambulances on bicycles are known to have become effective in Africa where four-wheeled vehicles have proven ineffective or inappropriate. In our own Mindanao, bamboo stretchers on horses have been used to bring down patients over long distances.
As for the jeepney, Piston notwithstanding, Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and even Iloilo are beginning to crawl with various models of BEEP, a bus-jeep variously styled as the Bagong Jeep, the people’s jeep or the “public light bus.” The BEEP is not to be confused with the beep card, although, eventually, the promise of the innovation is that these BEEPs will collect fares using electronic cards.
The BEEP is actually the new face of the jeepney that the government is promoting. It has a Euro 4 emission-compliant engine, comes in four-wheel or six-wheel versions, can carry 30-35 passengers, may or may not be air-conditioned, and may or may not have flat screen TV, GPS, internet, CCTV and other amenities. There are various models, as there have been various car manufacturers delivering batches to interested local governments. The BEEP, of course, comes at a steep price — about P2 million apiece.
I have seen models of BEEPs that are enticingly spacious. But at the moment, the reality may not yet match the promise. The blue BEEP I tried from Cubao to Marikina was cramped, was not air-conditioned, had only a narrow curbside exit, and had windows with grills that rendered the vehicle a firetrap.
Still, the increasing availability of these BEEPs on the road, on top of motorcycles and bicycles, Grab and Angkas, electric bikes and scooters, may help bypass the stalemate between the government and jeepney drivers clinging to the status quo. It may just buy the public enough time, until a post-Duterte administration may find the right commuter-responsive formula for dealing with the Metro Manila transport crisis.
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