PUV modernization program is for commuters
THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - July 8, 2020 - 12:00am

There is no truth to the claim that government’s Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Modernization Program is anti-poor. Read between the lines and you will find that it is just another sympathy campaign meant to derail one of the most beneficial, game-changing programs in the transport sector.

For decades, militant groups have been peddling this anti-poor narrative to block any move to modernize our grossly inefficient and environmentally damaging jeepney system. They deprived millions of Filipinos of a dignified transport system simply because they are resistant to change and because the status quo serves their purpose.

Lets get one thing straight. Government is not anti-poor. It is these militant groups who are anti-progress. And the losers of the militant’s charade is the Filipino people.

Everyone will agree that the overlapping jeepney routes, undisciplined driver behavior, the absence of trip schedules, poorly maintained vehicles and toxic exhaust emissions have no place in a modern society. Just because we were made to live with this backward system for 70 years doesn’t make it acceptable. As our country grows in sophistication, so must our public transport system. To keep it the way it is will only hold back our development, not to mention prolong the suffering of the riding public.

Government has given the PUV operators three long years to consolidate into cooperatives and conform to the new public transport guidelines. The three-year deadline lapsed last month but was extended to December in consideration of the pandemic-induced quarantine.

Consolidation into cooperatives is needed to achieve economies of scale. This is important when operators negotiate bank financing for the modernization of their fleets. It also gives operators the capacity to rotate vehicles during the day so that each unit can be properly sanitized and maintained.

When the PUV modernization program is fully implemented this December, only operators with fleets of 20 or more vehicles will be issued a franchise. The antiquated jeepneys will be retired and replaced by modern units. The mandatory requirements of the new jeepney include an electric motor or combustion engine that is compliant with EURO IV emission standards. Passenger entrance must be on the side of the vehicle where it is accessible from the sidewalk, not at the back, so as to be safer and PWD-friendly. It must come with a GPS system, Wifi, gadget charging stations, comfortable seats and a middle aisle that is high enough to allow passengers to stand. It must also come with a cashless fare collection system, CCTV cameras, fire extinguishers and a dashboard camera. Although not mandatory, the new jeeps are encouraged to have air-conditioning.

As one can tell, these requirements are meant to give the riding public a better means of transport. Apart from being clean, safe, comfortable and reliable, they will also be environmentally friendly. Best of all, the number of jeeps per route will be mathematically synchronized so that the appropriate number of jeeps will be available according to the hour of day. Arrivals and departures will be predictable and commuters can track the exact time of arrival of their jeep through a phone app.

A brand new jeep that is fully compliant with government’s requirements cost anywhere from P900,000 to P2.5 million, depending on capacity. Operators can choose from units made by Toyota, Hyundai, Sarao, Gazelle, Isuzu and Francisco Motors. Many parts are already Philippine-made including the interior fit and finish, body work, tires, electricals, batteries, etc.

Government has made it extremely easy for existing jeepney operators to upgrade their units. It has granted a subsidy of P160,000 (upgraded from P80,000) to cover in whole or in part, the down payment, chattel mortgage and insurance cost of the unit. Further, the minimum downpayment was reduced from the usual 20 percent to just five percent. Interest rates were pegged at a concessionary rate six percent for an extended period of seven years. These terms allow operators to obtain their brand new units at almost-zero cash outlay and affordable monthly payments.

Despite highly favorable terms, militant groups have convinced jeepney drivers that the PUV Modernization Program will lessen their income. On the contrary, under the new program, the boundary system will be outlawed and drivers will finally receive a fixed salary. They will also be eligible for health, housing and pension benefits for the drivers and their families. The new compensation scheme is far more superior than the existing boundary system.

Moreover, having fixed salary will ease the pressure on drivers to behave like madmen on our streets. There will be no need to jockey for passengers, cut fellow motorists on the road, linger in spots with high foot traffic and pick-up passengers wherever and whenever. In short, the new system will encourage better driver behavior.

Like I said, jeepney operators were given three years to consolidate and comply with the new vehicle requirements. Many operators dilly-dallied and are now unprepared. This is why the anti-poor rhetoric is being played-up again. It is meant to derail the program and move the deadline further to oblivion. To this, I say, government must put its foot down and fully impose its deadline even if it would mean withholding the issuance of franchises to certain operators. Three years is more than enough time to prepare for the new requirements.

To give-in to the pressure of the militants will only embolden them to demand more. Besides, government cannot afford to be perceived as flip-flopping on its own policies. It will be a huge embarrassment considering that this administration prides itself for its strong political will. Besides, the PUV Modernization is a campaign promise that has yet to be delivered.

As it stands, Malacañang has already showed weakness when Spokesman Harry Roque said old jeepneys “might be allowed” if they are deemed roadworthy and if existing PUVs are lacking.

Lets not lose sight of what the PUV Modernization Program is all about. It’s about giving the Filipino people a better, safer and more efficient commuting experience. Our people have suffered enough with the inhuman conditions of the present PUV system. One can only take so much of being cramped like sardines, having to inhale polluted air, having to wait for hours for a ride and having to contend with poorly maintained vehicles and reckless driving.

The PUV Modernization Program is about doing what is good for the commuters and our people. It is not about what benefits the militant groups. After all, the good of the majority far outweighs the demands of the noisy minority.

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