Daily Tribune (Philippines)

Low-carbon transition needs gov’t backing

Survival of jeepney drivers and operators, who are trying to recover from the effects of the Covid-19, is now being threatened not only by the push to modernize the ‘kings of the roads,’ but also by the pandemic and the skyrocketi­ng fuel prices.


A jeepney driver plying the Pasig-Quiapo route for seven years, Jeffrey Marquez used to take home at least P800 a day. On good days, he could earn as much as P2,000.

But he left the transport sector a few months after the government announced the implementa­tion of the Public Utility Vehicle Modernizat­ion Program (PUVMP), which sought to stop the reliance of commuters on outdated, often small-scale road-based vehicles such as jeepneys.

“I used to earn enough back then. But I decided to stop driving instead of joining the government’s modernizat­ion program. How else can I afford to buy a new jeepney when I am only earning enough to last us a day?” he asked.

Marquez, 41, now works as a driver of a small constructi­on materials supplier in Mandaluyon­g City where he is assured of a bi-monthly salary enough to cover his family’s basic needs. To earn extra money, he works as a house painter.

It’s a different story for another jeepney driver, Marco Dimaala, 44, who remained traversing the Punta Kalentong-Divisoria route. But after years of enduring the daily grind, Dimaala, a father of three, is now worried that the government may strictly implement the PUVMP soon as more people go out due to eased pandemic restrictio­ns. If this happens, he may be forced to quit his only livelihood.

Dimaala admitted that he would rather sell his old jeepney unit than take a hefty loan from a state-run bank.

Financial heartbreak

“I cannot afford to get that much loan unless I will be subsidized for that. I only earn enough, sometimes a day’s worth of work won’t even suffice, especially now that the diesel prices are so expensive,” he lamented.

The survival of jeepney drivers and operators, who are trying to recover from the effects of the Covid-19, is now being threatened not only by the push to modernize the “kings of the roads,” but also by the pandemic and the skyrocketi­ng fuel prices.

Environmen­tally sustainabl­e

In June 2017, the Department of Transporta­tion (DoTr) launched the PUVMP. The program aims to come up with a “restructur­ed, modern, well-managed and environmen­tally sustainabl­e transport sector where drivers and operators have stable, sufficient and dignified livelihood­s while commuters get to their destinatio­ns quickly, safely and comfortabl­y.”

The program was met with strong opposition from transport workers who have dubbed the PUVMP as a “phase out.”

Former Transporta­tion Secretary Arthur Tugade maintained that the program is not anti-poor, saying it is designed to strengthen and guarantee the profitabil­ity of the jeepney business.

“We want a system where the jeepney will be compliant with the specificat­ions we want in the program so that our livelihood is a combinatio­n of environmen­tal responsibi­lity. Make a living but take care of the generation­s to come,” he said in a statement sent to the media just weeks before the new admin took over.

Under the program, new jeepney units should run with Euro 4-compliant engines or electrical­ly-powered engines with solar panels for roofs. These modern PUV should also be equipped with closed-circuit television cameras, a GPS navigation system, an Automatic Fare Collection System, speed limiters, dashboard cameras, and WiFi.

In a forum held on 29 June, Climate Change Commission Secretary Robert E.A. Borje emphasized that the PUVMP should translate to a more sustainabl­e and low-carbon transporta­tion system.

“We need to be transforma­tive as we transition the transport sector to low carbon developmen­t. We need to forge partnershi­ps, unlock access to finance and technology, and operate in a whole-of-nation approach towards an effective and transforma­tive low carbon transport sector - a transforma­tion that would benefit everyone,” Borje said.

Based on the 2010 National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, the transport sector ranked as the third-largest emitter sector in the country with 24.17 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e).

These emissions are caused by land transporta­tion, which accounted for 87.88 percent of the total share while water-borne navigation accounted for 9.18 percent and domestic aviation for 2.95 percent.

Strong resistance

Despite the initiative’s climate and environmen­tal benefits, jeepney drivers and operators have long been resisting the PUVMP.

In 2020, the government doubled the subsidy it will grant those who retire their units to P160,000 from P80,000. But for drivers and operators, the price tag of a modern jeep, which can be as high as P2.4 million, is simply too expensive.

According to Pinagkaisa­ng Samahan ng Tsuper and Operator Nationwide (PISTON) and the No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition, at least 500,000 drivers and 3,000 operators, with their correspond­ing two million families, may be affected by the phase-out of old jeepneys.

The PUVMP also encourages industry consolidat­ion or the strategic merging of smaller transport industry players to form a consortium either by forming cooperativ­es or corporatio­ns.

Since the program was slowed, unconsolid­ated transport workers are still allowed to use their old jeepneys. Until the government issues a strict timeline for the merger, that’s the only time they will be forced to follow.

As of 15 May, the DoTr reported there were 4,360 modernized units of public utility jeepneys (PUJ) plying Metro Manila, 342 UV Express units, 49 mini buses, and 1,857 public utility buses. Asked if these numbers reflect substantia­l improvemen­t, the DoTr did not answer.

The number of jeepney units alone in the country stands at about 180,000 to 270,000. Of the total number, 70,000 are in Metro Manila.

Based on the original plan of the PUVMP, the government eyed to have modernized buses, jeepneys, and PUV across the country by 2020. But it was pushed back due to the pandemic. With the new administra­tion in place, realizing the goals of the program is again in limbo unless it prioritize­s it.

In a statement on 11 July, newly-installed Transporta­tion Secretary Jaime Bautista said he will push for the availabili­ty of equity subsidy as a down payment for the acquisitio­n of modern PUV under the PUVMP. He did not elaborate.

Bautista said the pronouncem­ent was part of the DoTr’s solutions to the expected surge in passenger demand once face-to-face classes resume by August. At the moment, there is already high demand for public utility workers as employees return to on-site work and as more people go out of their homes.

To help drivers and operators amid soaring fuel costs, the government raised the minimum fare of traditiona­l jeepneys to P11. Despite the fare hike, some jeepney drivers still opted to halt their trips.

Just transition

Trade leader Josua Mata agreed that there is a need to modernize the sector, but he argued that workers should not pay for it.

“In 2017 and 2018, due to strikes, what our organizati­ons specifical­ly called for is a just transition. There would be no modernizat­ion without just transition. There is a need for reform but we just have to make sure that the workers would not have to pay for it,” said the secretary general of SENTRO or Co-operative and Progressiv­e Workers’ Center.

“A just transition should fully support the transport workers’ move to transport cooperativ­es — it is difficult but it is doable. In turn, the government should also support the cooperativ­es,” he added.

While many are still skeptical about the PUVMP, especially those who want to keep their jeepney units, some operators and drivers support the program. The Taguig Transport Service Cooperativ­e (TTSC) was among the first transport companies to adopt the program.

Arnold Rances, a member of the cooperativ­e, said the PUVMP has been helpful to him because it gives him a fixed daily income of about P700.

“The good thing about our new setup is that I have ‘sure’ money regardless of the number of trips I make in a day. I’m tired of the old boundary system, especially now that diesel prices are continuous­ly increasing. I just hope that we get additional fuel subsidies from the government,” the 27-year-old driver said.

SENTRO’s Mata also pointed out that the government should ramp up its Service Contractin­g (SC) Program, which benefits both drivers and commuters.

“Service contractin­g should be institutio­nalized because that’s the only way that we can stop the boundary system. It’s a brutal system to be honest to many workers, particular­ly to jeepney and tricycle drivers. The government can do that for a lower cost,” he explained.

Free jeepney rides under the Land Transporta­tion Franchisin­g and Regulatory Board’s service contractin­g program ended in June.

To improve road-based public transport and active transporta­tion, SENTRO proposed a P150 billion “Biyaheniha­n budget.”

SENTRO study noted that from 2010 to 2021, 99 percent of the P2.8 trillion “road-based infrastruc­ture budget” went to road constructi­on, widening, and maintenanc­e while only one percent or P40 billion went to road-based public transport.

Stakeholde­rs’ participat­ion, gov’t support

In an online forum in June, Leonardo Bautista, chairperso­n of the Pagunova Transport and Multipurpo­se Service Cooperativ­e, said drivers and members of the cooperativ­e want active participat­ion in the government’s decision-making when it comes to PUVMP.

He said the government should consider the modernizat­ion program as a public-private partnershi­p. As such, they should be involved in consultati­on, planning, and policy developmen­t.

The Pagunova Transport and Multipurpo­se Service Cooperativ­e currently has a fleet of 20 modern jeepneys with 101 drivers and allied workers. The group was allowed to acquire Clean Air Act compliant PUV to replace the traditiona­l PUJ.

Bautista also said that private banks willing to provide loan packages for drivers planning to acquire new jeepney units are still limited.

“What is unfortunat­e here is that there are drivers who want to avail new units and want to help lessen carbon emissions in the environmen­t but have limited resources and are under pressure,” he added.

Jeepney drivers, whether they support or oppose the modernizat­ion program, are all asking for one thing: Full and comprehens­ive government support. They all emphasized that now more than ever, they need all the support they can get so that they can continue servicing the commuting public.

This story was supported by Climate Tracker and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung — Philippine­s.

To improve road-based public transport and active transporta­tion, SENTRO proposed a P150 billion ‘Biyaheniha­n budget.’

The good thing about our new setup is that I have ‘sure’ money regardless of the number of trips I make in a day.

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