Dream of modernization

Kicking off today, a nationwide week-long transport strike is launched by transport groups protesting the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), which will replace traditional jeepneys with modern counterparts that run on electricity or more environment-friendly alternatives.

At the University of the Philippines (U.P.) Cebu, where classes are shifting online from Mar. 6 to 12, some constituents view the transport strike as a manifestation that not everyone in society is back to normal after the lockdowns.

Communication student Nico, who commutes daily within Metro Cebu, joins other classmates and teachers to support PUV drivers rallying against the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board’s (LTFRB) implementation of PUVMP’s conditions that will have an impact on already marginalized drivers of traditional jeepneys and their families.

Also, a regular commuter, employee Jessamae will not join the strikers but wonders how the government can take away the livelihood of traditional jeepney operators and drivers without providing for alternatives that “do not entail millions in investments.”

Launched in 2017, the PUVMP is the Department of Transportation’s (DOTr) prescription for improved land transport systems, which aims to improve productivity, reduce citizens’ reliance on private vehicles, and mitigate global warming effects from the dependence on fossil fuels.

This DOTr blueprint has “blind sides,” claims retired U. P. Los Baños professor Teodoro Mendoza in his paper published by the U.P. Center for Integrative and Development Studies’ Program for Alternative Development.

The first blind side is the high cost per unit of the modern jeepneys. According to the Mar. 3 report of the Inquirer.net, a traditional jeepney costs from P200,000 to P600,000. A modern PUV that runs on electricity or eco-friendly alternatives is a P2.4 to 2.6 million-investment.

Commuters bearing the brunt of increased costs for commuting is the second blind side.

Although the LTFRB has pushed off the phasing out of traditional jeepneys by extending the validity of provisional authorities (PAs) for operating traditional jeepneys from June 30 to Dec. 31, 2023, transport groups say their families’ survival has still not been addressed by the government.

The PAs’ extension will allow more time to bring about “industry consolidation,” which jeepney drivers and operators oppose as favoring capitalists who alone can meet the provision in the DOTr’s Omnibus Franchising Guidelines that only corporations or cooperatives with at least 15 vehicles can apply for new franchises.

Dissenters of the PUVMP are framed as a noisy minority, estimated as approximately 100,000 PUV drivers and operators across the country, derailing initiatives that will improve mass transport and work productivity involving millions of citizens.

Glenda, a U.P. Cebu teacher, remembers that at the height of the pandemic, jeepney drivers and their families struggled because assistance from the government either did not reach them or was inadequate.

Glenda recalls how communities in U.P. Diliman pooled resources to assist Ikot jeepney drivers, who brought them daily to classes or work in the Quezon City campus. Drivers and their families had to live inside their traditional jeepneys, lacking rent money or fare to return to hometowns.

As the economy reopens, jeepney drivers accept the daily struggle as their lot. Their dependents, who commute daily to schools and workplaces are the fortunate ones.

Taking graduate studies at U.P. Diliman, Glenda chatted with Ikot jeepney drivers who say their dream is to put a son or daughter through college. This was before the pandemic that emptied campuses for two years.

Earning P500 after meeting the boundary of renting a PUJ unit for at least 10 hours, a jeepney driver regards college education for even just one of his or her dependents as a dream, made more unreal by the price of modernization under the PUVMP.