Calls mount to let jeepneys, UV Express back on the road
This photo taken on May 11, 2020 shows a driver installing seat dividers in his passenger jeepney to comply with government-imposed social distancing rules against the COVID-19 coronavirus in Manila.
AFP/Ted Aljibe

Calls mount to let jeepneys, UV Express back on the road

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - June 23, 2020 - 6:04pm

MANILA, Philippines — Weeks into the general community quarantine in Metro Manila, a senator pointed out the lack of mass transportation options for commuters as he urged transportation authorities to allow traditional jeepneys and UV Express vans back on the road.

Both are popular transportation options among Filipino commuters but operations have been suspended because of the quarantine and what presidential Harry Roque calls a "hierarchy pf public transportation" that favors the "modern jeepneys" that the government has been pushing.

The second phase of the resumption public transportation under the general community quarantine began on Monday, June 22, with many commuters saying on social media that traffic congestion has been heavy.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Transportation has said it would pursue its phaseout of the traditional public utility jeepney (PUJs) in favor of modern ones. 

Pangilinan on Monday called this insistence on modernization "insensitive and ill-timed," pointing out what he said was the government's discrimination against traditional jeepneys.

"Commuters suffer daily. When jeepneys and UV Express are allowed back on the road, two problems can be immediately resolved: commuters vehicles and jobs for jeepneys and UV Express drivers. The commuters, who are tired from work, are constantly being forced to walk the kilometers to work and home," he said in Filipino.

"Health and safety protocols such as physical distancing and regular disinfection on traditional jeepneys and UV Express can be implemented. We believe that commuters also work together to implement these protocols because no one wants to be infected with the virus," he added.

Heading into the fourth week of GCQ, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) told reporters that more than 100 routes would be opened, but only for modernized PUVs and excluding the 55,000 jeepneys in Metro Manila.

RELATED: New jeepneys ply routes, but not enough drivers

According to the Metro Manila Development Authority, not all of the 1,500 modernized PUVs slated for deployment actually plied their routes. At the "Laging Handa" press briefing, MMDA spokesperson Celine Pialago said this was due to a shortage of drivers.

"The transport operators have raised their concerns about a shortage of drivers. Despite the number of routes or permits to travel, not all of their units could be deployed. Some drivers went home to the province and could not go back to Metro Manila. These are the challenges faced by the operators," she said in a separate radio interview.

Researchers: Open-air jeepneys safer than modernized PUVs

The transportation department has long advertised that traditional jeepneys were always part of its hierarchy and its plans, but they’ve always been careful to mention that they would prioritize other modes with larger capacities, with the old PUJs still subject to "roadworthiness" standards. 

Both health and transport officials and even the Palace have expressed doubt that minimum health standards like social distancing could be observed in the traditional PUJs as the seating arrangement would have passengers facing each other. 

Think tank IBON Foundation has pointed to studies that find that traditional open-air jeepney is likely even safer against COVID-19 than its air-conditioned modernized counterpart, saying that keeping traditional jeepneys off the road inconveniences commuters and also denies them potentially safer means of transport.

"Most coronavirus transmissions are acknowledged to occur via droplet infection, from coughing and sneezing, and partly through contaminated surfaces. Nonetheless, recent studies show that the number of pathogens increases considerably in enclosed spaces and that regular ventilation reduces the risk of infection," the group said.

"Despite physical distancing, enclosed modern jeepneys can become centers for spreading the virus compared to the natural ventilation of traditional jeepney...With the pandemic still ongoing, insisting on jeepney modernization unnecessarily puts commuters at risk of possible airborne coronavirus infections," they added. 

For the time being, the need for more transport options only continues to rise by the day, according to transport economist Jedd Ugay of commuter group AltMobility PH.

In a text message, he said: “People will be able to comply more to social distancing if there will be sufficient or more than enough transport options. Better to be more than needed than insufficient."

Anakpawis: Preference for modern PUVs 'reeks of opportunism'

Militant group Anakpawis slammed the move to push for PUV modernization, pointing out the effects it would have on transportation capacity and consequently the employees of transport workers and the commuters depending on them. 

“The Duterte regime is cunningly carrying out the much-opposed jeepney phase-out under the guise of upholding physical distancing.  Moreover, its deployment of modern public utility vehicles reeks of opportunism, totally neglecting the impact on the affected sectors.  This is another manifestation of the regime single-handedly amplifying the detrimental impact of the pandemic to poor sectors,” Anakpawis leader Ariel Casilao said in a press statement on Tuesday.

“This is another ill-advised policy that directly affects the daily lives of poor sectors.  Everybody knows that the poorest worker rely on jeepney on his way to work.  This hardship is on top of the rising transportation costs on tricycles.  That is why many are commuting on bicycles, but of course, not all could be able to,” the former lawmaker stressed.

Though the subsidy offered to drivers has been doubled by transport authorities, operators have long chastised the government for failing to provide adequate financing support, and instead require them to shoulder interest-bearing loans for the modern PUVs bearing a hefty P2.4 million price tag.  

In a separate report, IBON also found that "drivers have lost as much as Php78,000 each from three months of mass transport suspensions since the lockdown" after most of them were left unemployed.

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

"PUV drivers and their families have been relying on help and lending to friends and relatives for some months; some have been forced to beg in the streets," Pangilinan said.

"We are confident that PUV drivers will be ready to become a part of the work force again and help stimulate productivity to accelerate economic growth and eliminate government spending on social amelioration," he added. — with a report from Prinz Magtulis

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