The planned weeklong transport strike starting on March 6 is apparently pushing through, despite the announcement of the Land Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) that it is extending the deadline for the traditional jeepney phase out until December 31.
The strike is in protest of the LTFRB Circular Memorandum No. 2023-013, which sets the deadline for the phase out of traditional jeepneys on June 30.
According to the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), the franchise for traditional jeepneys was supposed to expire by the end of March nationwide, except for Metro Manila, which is until the end of April. The LTFRB extended it to the end of June 2023, and it has now been further extended to December. The jeepney groups want the LTFRB to withdraw the circular and further extend the franchise of traditional jeepneys at least another five years.
The PUVMP was launched by the Department of Transportation in 2017, with the goal of making the country’s public transportation efficient and environmentally friendly by 2020. It calls for the phase out of jeepneys, buses and other PUVs that are at least 15 years old and replacing them with safer, more comfortable, and more environmentally friendly alternatives.
An estimated P5 billion was supposed to be made available to transport corporations and cooperatives to purchase new PUVs through the Development Bank of the Philippines.
It’s already 2023, and traditional jeepneys still comprise majority of the country’s PUVs, giving them enough power to make government pay attention when they decide to call a strike.
I get it that the 2++ years we lost, either in lockdown, quarantine, or just being ineffective as a government, during the COVID pandemic, must have put a spanner on the plans and timeline of the PUVMP, but it is pretty obvious by now that both government and the jeepney operators did absolutely nothing while waiting for the deadline and moving it back every now and then.
What happened was government waited for the jeepney operators and drivers to act, while the latter took government inaction as a sign that they were in the clear as far as the PUVMP monster is concerned. There was this golden opportunity to overhaul the country’s transportation system as seamlessly and smoothly as possible, while the window opened as traffic was generally shut down for almost 2 years, and because nobody took advantage of it, here we are, facing a weeklong nationwide transport strike as government and the jeepney people argue. Filipino people just aren’t allowed to have nice things.
If you come to think of it, the jeepney is overdue for replacement. It is unsafe, uncomfortable, and inefficient. The surplus engines it uses are a major source of dirty emissions and if you believe the anecdotal evidence, the drivers may be reckless but it is their ancient brakes that almost always fail when road crashes occur. To make matters worse, our public transportation system generally sucks. The only saving grace of the Pinoy jeepney is its iconic status, but other than its unique looks, it doesn’t have anything about it worth saving.
Government had no choice but to modernize the jeepney and the public transportation system in general. The problem in this case is how they went about it.
As we have seen firsthand, coming up with a document and a “program” is the easy part. Any moron government can come up with an ambitious plan to make everything better. The difference, as always, is in the execution. In the case of the PUVMP, this is where our government failed us once again. As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In the case of the PUVMP pudding, whatever our government and its transport partners cooked up over the past 5 years is simply inedible because nothing significant happened. Aside from a few modern jeepneys here and there, the traditional jeepney is still the king of the road, as evidenced by how seriously this government is taking the threat of a weeklong strike.
Whoever made this plan apparently did not include and consult the jeepney bloc. I don’t know if they have a pretend or token party list, with a representative from a political dynasty that has probably never driven nor been a passenger in a jeepney, but based on the current state of the supposedly modernizing public transport system, it looks like whatever program they came up with is useless.
So here we are now, faced with a transport strike and not enough modern jeepneys in the pipeline. It looks like the LTFRB is going to have to push back its own deadlines further back every time, until someone makes the program work and the balance of power shifts from the traditional jeepney to the modern one.
If we are having such a difficult time improving the transportation system, where almost everyone with a basic education knows is in dire need of improvement, imagine how much more challenging it will be for our government to improve other things in this country.
This continuing squabble between government and the jeepney bloc, over something that needs to be done right as soon as possible, makes it almost feel like we are doomed to mediocrity.*