Poe hopeful hearing will resolve jeepney modernization woes

Rosette Adel - Philstar.com
Poe hopeful hearing will resolve jeepney modernization woes

Activists and jeepney drivers hold banners during a jeepney transport strike held in Manila on October 16, 2017. Jeepney drivers and activists staged a nationwide transport strike in protest against the government's plan to phase out the ubiquitous passenger jeepney as part of a modernisation campaign to turn the Philippines' main form of public transport green. Noel Celis/AFP, File

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Grace Poe expressed optimism that the hearing into the jeepney modernization program would provide a solution to the concerns of transport groups, drivers, operators and the riding public.

In her opening statement during the the Senate Committee on Public Services inquiry on Monday, Poe reiterated that the hearing “is not in aid of publicity, but in search for the solutions.”

“By calling this hearing, we are trying to bring the issue from the streets to the negotiating table. Many of you have tried to thresh this out in several forums, and apparently everyone is sticking to his guns,” Poe, also chair of the Senate panel, said.

“The result is the policy equivalent of a classic traffic gridlock, like cars entangled in an intersection because no one would budge,” she added.

Poe cited that jeepneys serve huge ridership as one in five Filipinos ride it to work, to school or to the market every day. She added that there are about 230,000 public jeepneys on the road which is bigger than the number of buses, taxis, mini-buses and transport network vehicles.

READ: Why some transport groups oppose jeepney phaseout

“The urban car-driving class may scoff at these 'ancient, unsightly' vehicles, which have long ceased to be kings of the road, but the fact is, and this [is] not fake news, jeepneys remain not only the main ride—but the only ride—in most parts of the country,” Poe said.

“And precisely because it is the only ride in most parts of the country, the status quo becomes unacceptable. It is therefore imperative that the government fulfill its mandate in making sure that these rides are safe, convenient, and environment-friendly,” she added.

‘Jeepneys should be upgraded, not phased-out’

While she recognizes that jeepneys are indispensable, Poe said these public vehicles are not immune from improvements. She urged the operators and drivers to admit that some jeepneys needed upgrade.

Poe said there is no need for a jeepney phase-out as this may cause “massive public discomfort” citing that the total ridership could reach 20 million.

“The challenge is how to transition in a manner that is acceptable, affordable, and appropriate. It is not a question of if, but when and how,” the senator said.

Poe cited that the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program “designed the public utility vehicles safer, more convenient, more comfortable, and environment-friendly." Among the points of improvements she raised is the concern on smoke-belching vehicles and the air pollution that poses danger to the health of commuters.

Despite this, Poe said the public should also know if jeepney operators or drivers could shoulder the amount of new jeepneys worth around P1.5 to P1.8 million without increasing the fare. Poe wants to ensure that the operators would receive help from the government.

“Come to think of it, if government is subsidizing trains run by rich companies to the tune of billions, then why should it allow jeepney drivers and operators to foot the bill for new units almost all by themselves?” the senator said.

“So these are the divergent interests we would like to reconcile today. Tulad sa isang jeep, gusto nating makakita ng isang malinaw na ruta,” she added.

Officials from the Department of Transportation, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board as well as officials from major transport groups are attending the Senate hearing.

The major transport groups including the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide earlier postponed its planned two-day strike to heed the call of Poe to reconsider staging the strike. They then expressed willingness to engage in a dialogue regarding the jeepney modernization program of the government.

They are opposing the government’s plan to phase out jeepneys aged 15 years and older.

RELATED: Piston cancels 2-day transport strike on December 4-5

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