DOTr: Public transport modernization, jeepney phaseout to continue

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
DOTr: Public transport modernization, jeepney phaseout to continue
Commuters queue for free bus rides from Philcoa to Cubao in Quezon City on March 30, 2021 due to limited public transportation amid the enhanced community quarantine.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Transportation is reviving the push for modernizing public utility vehicles after the project slowed to a halt during the Duterte administartion because of the pandemic, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said.

The delayed and contentious program aims to replace old jeepneys, among Filipinos’ primary modes of transportation, with new ones equipped with a cashless payment system and GPS tracking device. The reform would also see jeepneys powered by more environment-friendly fuels.

"It's an important project of the DOTr as far as having electric vehicles for public utility...We're working with certain groups already that have acquired electric vehicles," he said at a luncheon organized by the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines.  

Much of the longstanding backlash against the program comes from the fact that drivers feeding poor families refuse to shoulder the P2.4 million price tag of a modernized jeepney, with many of them calling for a just transition instead of leaving them to shoulder the cost on their own.

During the pandemic, the government doubled its subsidy for these to P160,000, but the prices of units also doubled and now cost P2.4 million.

"We have been working with a transport cooperative that would like to import electric mini buses from China. They are just waiting for the financing support from Landbank and the Development Bank of the Philippines, which we are really attending to and helping them for them to get the financing," Bautista also said at the forum. 

To date, the DOTr has said that 6,000 modernized jeepneys are operating in the country. 

In September, the department failed to secure funding worth P778 million earmarked for the PUV modernization program budget in the National Expenditure Program in 2023 as part of its proposed P167 billion budget next year.

During the House plenary debates on the proposed 2023 budget for the DOTr that same month, Rep. Felimon Espares (COOP NATCCO Party-list) called in to  question what he said was the unused 2022 equity subsidy for the PUV modernization program of more than P1 billion. 

Transport workers are split on the issue. Some have chosen to comply with the government on the condition that the transition to modern jeepneys is just and takes into account the conditions and welfare of drivers, but groups like PISTON have rejected the program altogether. 

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