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Modern classic

What is so modern about the so-called modern jeepney?

We’ve certainly seen some of these new “jeepneys” that look nothing like it and actually is more of a mini bus, plying the roads of Bacolod City in recent weeks. If you come to think of it, those vehicles certainly fit the description of “modernized” at first blush, especially when compared to the typical jeepney.

These “modern jeepney” is an air-conditioned PUJ unit, manned by a two-man crew consisting of a driver and a conductor. It is apparently equipped with closed circuit television cameras and a GPS tracking device.

Compared to ordinary jeepneys, the minimum fare is higher by P2 and its crew are paid a minimum wage for every eight hours of work plus overtime pay, along with government mandated benefits such as SSS and Pag-IBIG contributions.

We shall assume that these new units are powered by brand new engines instead of the surplus ones that used to drive 99% of jeepneys in the country, providing terrible fuel efficiency and reliability while emitting maximum noxious fumes and greenhouse gases.

If that is the standard for modernization, then we must certainly agree that these mini buses are the present evolution of the jeepney.

However, I will have to say that the sight of the “modernized” jeepney was both underwhelming and disappointing for me because an aircon mini bus is definitely far from my definition of modernization. It is, at best, something from the late 1980’s in a first world country. CCTV cameras and GPS tracking that are now ultra-cheap and accessible due to the steady march of technology is the only semi-new tech there.

We had an opportunity to modernize the jeepney and this is the best we could do: shun the jeepney to get a mini bus and add a few cheap techie doodads.

The jeepney routes have not been rationalized, updated or digitalized. The chaotic system of picking up passengers anywhere they damn please, remains the same. Cashless payment is obviously unavailable because a conductor is still necessary. In an age when the rest of the world is going hybrid or electric, our modern jeepney still runs on internal combustion engines that requires fossil fuels and emits greenhouse gases, with seemingly no plans of either going hybrid, hydrogen, natural gas or electric.

To be honest, I was excited when I heard that the Department of Transportation was embarking on a PUV modernization program. It’s about time, I thought then. I guess I underestimated the normalization of mediocrity in government because if this is the pinnacle of its modernization program, then we are truly a nation of bare minimums.

A mini bus with aircon, CCTV, GPS, being crewed by a driver and conductor that aren’t dependent on the boundary system, may be an improvement from the archaic system of the jeepney, but if you come to think of it, by going for the bare minimum improvement instead of maximizing this opportunity to change the game completely, the Philippine transport system really missed the boat.

To be fair to the “modern” jeepney, despite my high expectations, what we ultimately got is still an improvement over the traditional but highly inefficient icon of our transport system. Air conditioning is something our commuters have missed out on for decades. New internal combustion engines should be better in terms of fuel efficiency and emissions than their predecessors. CCTVs and GPS tracking can improve security and maybe even provide the necessary data for route optimization. Having a driver that isn’t dependent on a boundary system makes them less cutthroat drivers and that could be good for motorists. Hopefully their drivers have either been retrained or are newly trained, because old jeepney driver habits probably die hard.

What gets to me is the missed opportunity because with a little bit more thought and effort, we could have done so much more. In a world where everyone else is trying to mitigate the effects of climate change, the DOTr could have pushed harder for the modern jeepney to be a zero, or at least low-emission vehicle. Route optimization and putting in place a truly modern jeepney-based public transportation system should’ve been given more emphasis as they worked with LGUs. The jeepney itself shouldn’t have been the focal point as it is but a gear in the public transportation machine. 

Better routes, scheduled trips, designated stops, a centralized dispatching system, an app for commuters, cashless payment systems could all have been integrated into the modernization process if the people in charge of it were serious and determined to change the public transport landscape of the country, especially in supposedly progressive areas like the Metro Bacolod area. 

Instead of a game changer, we got baby steps.

Maybe we should just be glad we are at least moving forward?*

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December 2022

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