Modern jeep, old ways

BAR NONE - Ian Manticajon - The Freeman

One of my pet peeves as a driver these days is the “modern jeep”. Envisioned to replace the approximately 179,000 traditional jeepneys in this country (90% of which are 15 years or older according to one study), these modern jeeps are usually white buses plying the metro roads.

These buses are notably irritating because they behave as if they own the road. Their size is intimidating, and they scare other drivers with their sudden maneuvers and disregard for road-sharing. Traditional jeepneys and taxis are also notorious for similar behavior, but they are smaller and don’t take up as much space.

The term 'modern' attached to these so-called modern jeepneys (essentially buses) carries no weight, as the old habits of reckless and mindless driving still persist among their drivers. Apparently, only the physical appearance of the vehicle has changed, not the underlying system that tolerates or encourages poor driving behavior among many public transport drivers.

Yes, I’m talking about a system, because I believe the poor habits that have persisted for decades in this country's public transportation are not merely a matter of wrong values or personal attitudes. Economically marginalized drivers, rushing to meet the day's rent (boundary) for their jeepney, are often incentivized to engage in reckless driving behavior, striving to carry as many passengers as possible in multiple rounds along their route. I believe this has led to the current reckless driving culture among many of our so-called professional public transportation drivers.

Supposedly the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), established in 2018 by the Department of Transportation (DOTr), aims to modernize the Philippines' public transport sector by addressing environmental, safety, and efficiency concerns. The program aims to overhaul “practices, policies, business models, and the cultural context of public transportation.”

It supposedly includes 10 key components; regulatory reform, local transport planning, route rationalization, fleet modernization, industry consolidation, financing, a vehicle life program, pilot implementation, stakeholder support, and communication.

So far, the positive results we have seen include larger fleets that can carry more passengers in air-conditioned comfort. Also, I asked a client of mine, who leads a cooperative of modern jeepney drivers in Mandaue, about these reforms. He confirmed that the system has worked well for them so far, enabling them to afford the larger units through a loan program and earn sufficient income. But recently, the transport group PISTON announced a nationwide three-day transport strike starting on Monday. They asserted that modern jeepneys are overly costly and could burden operators with significant debt.

Even as reforms are being carried out in the public transportation sector, not much has changed in terms of incentivizing drivers to follow traffic laws and drive responsibly. Old habits of reckless, mindless driving still exist. Normally, I exercise extra patience with public transportation drivers, especially those who jut in and out suddenly or ignore no-stopping signs to pick up passengers, recognizing that my private vehicle, with only me inside, contributes more to the carbon footprint compared to a bus carrying multiple passengers. However, the rise of modern jeepneys has exacerbated irresponsible driving, particularly concerning given the larger physical impact these fleets have on the road.

Last Tuesday night, a tragic accident occurred at the corner of MC Briones and Labogon Road in Barangay Basak, Mandaue City, involving a modern jeepney. The vehicle lost control while counter-flowing, resulting in the death of a call center agent from Compostela and injuries to five others. The victim worked for a company based in Cebu City. According to reports, the 38-year-old modern jeepney driver, from Barangay Jubay, Liloan, was attempting to overtake another vehicle in the opposite direction when he lost control of his vehicle, which subsequently collided with a parked car at the side of the road. This incident will certainly not be the last we see involving modern jeeps as they take their place as the new king of the road.

A truly modern jeepney public transportation system discourages reckless driving and promotes safety and efficiency. We have already tried increasing penalties for reckless driving, training programs for drivers, and road safety awareness campaigns. What became of the plan to transition jeepney drivers from the boundary system, where they pay daily rentals, to a salary-based model? Such a shift could reduce the pressure on drivers to pick up as many passengers as possible to cover their costs and earn enough income. That would then encourage them to drive more responsibly. Such an option seems worthwhile.

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