"Leyte's PUV implementation will serve as a model for Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Modernization of the whole country," said Chairman Martin Delgra of the Land Transportation Franchise and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) at the recent Society of Philippine Motoring Journalist's (SPMJ) Forum on the subject held at Seda Hotel in Vertis North in Quezon City. 

The SPMJ Forum gathered the LTFRB and representatives from the Truck Manufacturer’s Association (TMA) were at the event to discuss the pressing issue of PUV Modernization.

Delgra was referring to the recent implementation of the PUV Modernization Program (PUVMP) in Tacloban City, Leyte in January of this year.

There, three franchises with 15 units each were opened for three routes, for a total of 45 units. The new missionary routes connect residents of the new housing and resettlement areas to the rest of the city. Plying the routes are solar E-jeepneys, which are equipped with dash cams, CCTV cameras and an automatic fare collection system.

Delgra: Leyte's PUVs a model for nationwide PUV Modernization

Delgra said that the implementation solves many of the current PUV woes: there are too many PUVs plying the streets; it does not efficiently transport commuters to their destination; prone to the driver fatigue; and run on the boundary system.

The Tacloban PUVs solve this by granting franchises to cooperatives and fleet operaters, allowing them to strictly regulate the number of jeepneys plying a route. The PUVs run on a schedule, ensuring passengers will easily be able to get a ride any time of the day. Drivers are paid fixed salaries and work just 12 hours behind the wheel, eliminating the need to wait for more passengers or drive when they are tired.

Delgra said that the Tacloban PUVs have become so profitable, the operators are asking for more units.

With the success of its first implementation, the DoTR, LTO and LTFRB plans to roll out similar models to the Tacloban system wherever and as soonest possible, though not necessarily with electric powertrains.

When asked about how soon the system could be rolled out in other areas, Delgra said that there is strong resistance from Jeepney operators.

Delgra: Leyte's PUVs a model for nationwide PUV Modernization

The main problem is with the franchises, which have formerly been issued to individual jeepney operators and drivers. They were then sold and transferred to other operators without the LTFRB’s knowledge.

"A franchise is supposed to be free," Delgra said. However, because of the lack of regulation, it has been transferred, duplicated and even sold. The LTFRB plans to address this with the "one route, one franchise” policy, however there is strong opposition from the operators against it.

Delgra cites sentimental reasons as one of the problems. "Papaano naman ako, na gamit ang jeepney na bigay sa akin ng Tatay ko?" (What about me, I only use the jeepney which my father passed down to me?) Delgra quoted one complaint.

To encourage the shift, the LTFRB is working with programs to encourage the surrender of franchises and the scrapping of old PUVs. With the help of financial institutions, individuals that do so will receive financial assistance if they volunteer to scrap their old PUVs and shift to the new one, or even pursue a different career altogether.

Delgra: Leyte's e-Jeepneys a model for nationwide PUV Modernization

One of these programs is called 5-6-7-8. It requires the Jeepney operator to show his credentials, as well as proof of membership with a recognized cooperative. From there, he will be required to pay 5-percent downpayment. Payments will be kept at a 6-percent interest rate, for as long as 7 years. The vehicle’s warranty is also hoped to be extended to 7 years long pending talks with PUV suppliers, however it is currently at 5 years. Finally, the government will offer as high as an P80,000 subsidy per unit.

With current PUV prototypes, costing PhP 1.6M and upwards, it was brought up that it may be a steep price for potential operators.

In response, Delgra explained that the PUV modernization program is intended to update and standardize all modes of four-wheel transportation, not just jeepneys.

The government agencies, with the help of the TMA, are currently working on official standards for vehicle suppliers of this program to follow. Class 2 and 3, which covers inner and inter-city use have already been released, while the standards for Class 1 PUVs (which will replace multicabs) and Class 4 (which will replace rural jeeps and buses) have yet to be finalized and released.

Delgra explained that the reason for this is to address the current overlap of public transport vehicles. UV Express was intended to be point to point but they are now operating like jeepneys and buses. Some jeepneys also go far beyond their franchised routes. With the new scheme, routes will be strictly enforced and the four classes are designed not to serve specific purposes without overlap.

For more specifics on the current standardized classes, members of the TMA presented current PUVs and how many of their features are "outdated and dangerous". One particular point made by the TMA is the unsafe entry and exit point of the current jeepney which sees passengers having to go to the back of the vehicle to get on board or leave. They also pointed out safety lapses, with the lack of safety belts of occupant restraint systems. Cramped quarters and an "unergonomic driving position" further adds to fatigue of both drivers and passengers, said TMA.

Modern PUV

In response, their prototypes feature new Euro-4 engines, a side-loading entrance, strict passenger counts, more spacious seating, enough headroom to stand upright in, PWD friendly entrances and access ramps, as well as features like onboard entertainment, CCTV cameras, speed limiters, and automatic fare collection systems. The goal of TMA is to make the modern PUV safer, cleaner, convenient and reliable.

Tata, one of the members of TMA, is even including training for those who will purchase a Tata PUV for their part in the PUV Modernization Program.

Finally, Delgra said that supplying a PUV is not limited to vehicle manufacturers. Any group or company that can build a PUV to the government’s set standards and requirements can submit their proposal.