'Jeepneys are safe': Transport groups stage protest outside LTFRB office
Traditional jeepney drivers gathered at the Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) who was affected by the pandemic Covid-19 wait in front of the office in Quezon City for financial aid from local celebrity host Willie Revillame.
The STAR/Boy Santos

'Jeepneys are safe': Transport groups stage protest outside LTFRB office

(Philstar.com) - August 20, 2020 - 12:27pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 4:24 p.m.) — Transport collectives staged a protest Thursday in front of the offices of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board office in East Avenue, calling for the return of all traditional jeepneys idled for five months following the suspension of public transportation in March. 

Traditional public utility jeepneys have largely received the short end of the stick, with transportation officials often citing social distancing reasons and instead favoring modern PUJs for deployment. As of late, the board has promised to gradually open more routes and deploy more units in the coming weeks, but concrete plans are still relatively unclear. 

Until then, transport workers, including drivers and operators, continue to languish without livelihood in quarantine, while some are forced to beg on the streets. 

In a text message to Philstar.com, Mody Floranda, president of transport group Piston, said that despite the higher numbers of public utility vehicles being deployed with the implementation of general community quarantine, the group wants all jeepney drivers allowed back on the road.

"What we're asking for is for 100% of [traditional jeepneys] to be able to ride again and serve the public and help lift the economy of our country. We want drivers and operators to have a livelihood again and for the public to have rides going to work again, and we want the drivers to be given their aid," he said. 

Though there are now 12,443 traditional jeepneys that can now ply their routes according to the LTFRB, Piston estimates that some 74,000 public utility jeepney units were left out of commission at the beginning of the enhanced community quarantine—leaving just 17% of drivers with a livelihood. 

READ: More jeepneys and buses on the road 'but far from sufficient' — transport workers, advocates

READ: Subsidy doubled to retire old jeepneys, but assistance still insufficient

Amid the coronavirus-induced quarantine, the Department of Transportation continues to push for its modernization program which seeks to phase out the "Kings of the Road". When sought for comment on this, the department often brings up its doubled subsidy for participants of the program, an amount experts say still falls short of how much they say the sector will need to afford the new units. They say, if not now, then when?

“Drivers and operators are hoping they can go back to earning a living. They're ready to follow regulations, like putting up dividers in jeeps to ensure the public’s health and safety,” Floranda also said in Filipino in an earlier Philstar.com story.

“For months drivers have suffered without earnings, and for three months the public has had a difficult time without serviceable transport, so we're really hoping we can go back to work."

'Gradual, calculated resumption of transport' 

Sought for comment by Philstar.com, transportation spokesperson Goddes Libiran said in a text message: "The ones that aren't allowed to ride are jeepneys that are no longer road-worthy."

Months into the quarantine, both the Land Transportation Office and the LTFRB have not been keen on providing figures on their roadworthiness test and driver applicants, respectively. 

"Even if a unit isn't brand new, if it passes the roadworthiness test of the LTO, it will pass. Now talking about the pandemic, we can't let all the vehicles out because that will defeat the purpose of quarantine. We’re still in GCQ. Our approach is a gradual, calibrated, and calculated resumption of public transport," she said in a mix of Filipino and English. 

Though data on the existing demand is scarce, the need for transportation options has long been established over the past 156 days of community quarantine and only rises by the day.

For jeepney drivers and operators, the long wait for a gradual and calibrated resumption only adds to an already grueling five months without work, where many reported not receiving any social amelioration aid either.  

"Another thing is that we are fixing and rationalizing the routes to address the over/under supply of vehicles along a specific route. We can't just have them whenever and wherever. When will we be able to fix our public transport system if we leave obstructed routes alone? Number of vehicles on a certain route should depend on the actual demand that is based on plans and study," Libiran also said. 

"That is why we have what we call local public transport route plans per LGU/province which determines where the routes are, how many commuters are in that route, what types of vehicles are needed in that route, and how many vehicles are needed to meet the demand," she added. 

At a webinar organized in late June, commuter advocacy group Move As One Coalition, said: "If we assume that 50% of trips resume during COVID-19, there will be 14 million trips by public transport, walking, or cycling. If we continue to stop jeepney operations, around 4.8 million trips will not be served." — Franco Luna

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