The reign of the jeepney might just be coming to an end. However, it is not going down without a fight as the government and jeepney operators continue to clash over requirements and regulations.
Despite (obvious) flaws, it is hard to fault these drivers, operators, and the riding public as the Jeepney has practically become synonymous with the country, serving as a cultural icon and symbol of ingenuity. Yet with the government’s new Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), is there still hope for the jeepney or has the bell finally tolled? We take a closer look at the details of the PUVMP to find out.
PUV Modernization Program
The PUV Modernization program is a government initiative designed to streamline and organize the country’s public road transportation system. Launched in June 2017, the program seeks provide safer, more efficient and more heavily regulated means of transport for the riding public. Though commonly associated with jeepneys, the PUVMP actually covers all modes of road-going 4 to 6-wheeled passenger transport.
The program involves several phases: from phasing out old vehicles that are no longer road worthy and emissions compliant; to scrutinizing and reorganizing routes, franchises, and roles of the vehicles involved; to introducing new systems and standards for vehicles that will serve the public. It is hoped to be implemented nationwide by 2020.
It doesn’t take genius to note that the current system is not working as efficiently as it should be. Our roads are plied by a wide variety of public transport vehicles, many of which overlap in terms of route, franchise and service. At the very bottom end of the spectrum are the multicabs, serving as mini-jeepneys and carrying many passengers over short distances. Then there are the jeepneys which serve a variety of routes throughout cities in the country, be it from the farthest settlements to the nearest town or from city to city. UV Express vans, which started as premium jeepneys, then upgraded to point to point transport services, continue to function as aircon jeepneys, sometimes picking up passengers along the way. Higher up are the mini buses which connect city to city, and for longer routes, sometimes across bodies of water are the large buses.
Drawing particular ire from the government and private motorists are the jeepneys, originally adapted from World War II Willys Jeeps left by American military during their occupation of the country. After the war, with much of the country in shambles and ruin, enterprising Filipinos modified these vehicles to carry passengers, and serve as public transportation, charging a small fare for a specified route.
The Jeepney has been in service in the country since the 1940s, and while many are no longer built from original Willys Jeeps, the design has endured, with their chassis, body and components adapted from different surplus truck parts. Its body panels are made from stainless steel, often embellished with decorations, murals, and the signature horses on the hood and visor and crown over the windshield.
The Jeepney, in its current form, features an extended wheelbase, now common practice in order to accommodate some 18 to 26 passengers. The vehicle is boarded from behind with steps built into the body in order to climb on board. Passenger seats are arranged facing each other. It is difficult to stand upright, as such, passengers may have to bend to walk toward the front and, often times, the Jeepney is seen carrying far more than what it was designed for. They are typically powered by surplus or second hand Japanese diesel engines, many of which were not designed to meet modern vehicle emissions standards. The fare is passed on by fellow passengers until it reaches the driver and, as a result, the driver typically juggles both driving, calculating fare, and returning the change, all at the same time.
Jeepney aside, many of these vehicles were designed to service a specific amount of passengers, however, these days, they are filled beyond capacity. Because drivers earn a commission from each passenger, many of them wait to be filled before going on their route, dramatically increasing the travel time for other passengers. They often pile up on busy stops yet are hardly around to serve less popular stops. The fight for passengers can also lead to drivers competing with each other, often racing from stop to stop to pick up passengers, leading to accidents. Finally, because franchises are granted per driver and vehicle, it becomes difficult to monitor how many vehicles are plying a route at a given time, let alone catch those with forged or fake franchises.
Tricycles fall under the authority of their respective LGUs and do not fall under this plan. Taxis will be left unchanged as their destinations vary with each passenger. There are no provisions for Transport Network Vehicle Services (TNVS).
What needs to be fixed?
Many of these problems have been brought to the government’s attention, and as such, it has banded together the concerned agencies: DoTR, LTO, LTFRB, and DTI to come up with a solution. That solution is the PUVMP.
First of all, the PUVMP plans to organize the many modes of public transport. From the wide variety of public utility vehicles, it hopes to consolidate them into just 4 standardized classes. The DTI’s Bureau of Philippine Standards (BPS) together with the Truck Manufacturer’s Association (TMA) has come out with a Philippine National Standard (PNS) for PUVs: PNS 2126:2017. It specifies dimensional limits for PUVs with strict limits on the seating arrangement and capacity, as well as maximum mass. Also included in the dimensional limits are the vehicle’s overall height, width and length, wheelbase and even front and rear overhang, cabin, seat and seat lay out, step board, service door and emergency exit.
Class 1 is intended to replace multicab passenger vehicles. Typically plying smaller cities around the country, this class limits the size of the vehicle to nothing more than the average car, requiring a side-loading entrance and limits the passenger capacity to just a handful.
Class 2 is intended to replace the jeepney, allowing for a maximum of 22 passengers on side-facing seats, enough headroom for passengers to stand in, and appropriate bars and handles to hold on-to. It too will require a side-loading door.
Class 3 is intended for inter-city transport, and is touted to replace the minibus. All passengers must be on forward facing seats with restraints.
Class 4 is intended to connect rural towns to larger cities. It should have provisions for cargo, as well as forward facing seats for all passengers.
Besides the class specific requirements, all of them must be powered by a Euro-4 emissions compliant engine or battery electric propulsion. With Euro-4 engines alone, TMA members have proven that their prototypes are already 43-percent more efficient than the traditional Jeepneys. They should also be equipped with dash cams, speed limiters, CCTV cameras and an automatic fare collection system.
One Route, One Franchise
To better control the number of vehicles plying a particular route, the government is instituting a 'one route, one franchise policy.' Drivers and operators must form cooperatives or corporations and register with the LTFRB to be granted a franchise. No lone operators are allowed.
The government is already in talks with several LGUs in order to scrutinize the current routes, come up with new routes if necessary, as well as streamline any of the current ones.
This method has several benefits. First of all, the franchise holder is given a monopoly over a particular route, without competition. By limiting the franchise to a group or coop, the number of vehicles servicing that route can be limited and monitored. As such, any vehicles not part of the coop that are plying the route can easily be identified and caught.
Drivers are required to be salaried instead of earning through the boundary system. This way, there’s very little incentive to wait for a PUV to be filled before proceeding. The driver is also not allowed to drive for more than 12 hours to cut down accidents resulting from driver fatigue. The coop can also organize stops and schedules, ensuring a PUV will arrive for passengers at a particular stop at a particular time.
With a coop, the acquisition and maintenance of the PUVs can be taken on by the group or the individual. If taken on by the group, it can dramatically reduce the financial burden of acquiring a new vehicle. The group can also take on the required maintenance, quickly addressing problems when they happen. Any vehicles being repaired can easily be replaced by another, ensuring the route continues to operate. Through this system, the coop can practically double the amount of drivers, assigning 2 to 3 to a vehicle. However, any violations with regard to the vehicles will be levied against the coop. As such, this gives the coop an incentive to monitor its members and ensure its drivers are disciplined and the vehicles are maintained.
Finally, this fleet management method allows the coop to more closely monitor its earnings. It can easily monitor how many vehicles are plying a route and make changes when necessary. The electronic fare collection system in the PUVs, allows all the participants to share in the profit, regardless of their shift. The coop can also earn additional income with advertising on their vehicles.
Through this system, the driver’s duty is to simply drive the vehicle, reducing the amount of distractions and the risk of an accident.
Easing the transition
The government is eyeing to have modernized buses, jeepneys, and public utility vehicles across the country by 2020. With regards to jeepneys alone, that’s a staggering 180,000-270,000 units according to various estimates, with 70,000 just within Metro Manila. In addition, vehicles older than 15 years are no longer allowed to register as PUVs, ensuring a steady stream of new and up-to-date vehicles.
It hopes that by streamlining system, the PUVs will complement the current modes of transport offered, reduce traffic, and consequently reduce the need for private transport, modern public transport services like TNVS, and any colorum tranportation operations.
To ease the acquisition of these vehicles, the government has allotted the third slot of the Board of Investment, and Department of Trade and Industry’s Comprehensive Automotive Resurgence Strategy (CARS) Program for PUV Modernization. This allows the government, with the help of financial institutions, to grant loans at low interest to those that wish to acquire the new vehicles.
The government has even prepared a financing package, 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.
There will be no single, official PUV per class. Since they are standardized, the vehicles can be acquired from any of the participants of the PUVMP. This ranges from big name manufacturers like Isuzu, Fuso, Hino, Hyundai, and Tata to coach builders like Centro, Santarosa and Almazora. The government is even open to proposals from small scale builders, provided their vehicles can meet the standards outlined by the DTI.
The government’s plan doesn’t simply stop at overhauling our public transportation system. Many of the requirements it has instituted are for its longer term goal of computerizing and consolidating public transport.
Among the requirements for PUVs are GPS tracking, speed limiters, onboard CCTV cameras, and electronic fare collection systems. These are intended to provide valuable data for the government in order to monitor all the vehicles and routes in the country. Several systems are currently studied which can integrate all of these data points. The government is also considering conceiving of a new department specifically to monitor public transport using this new technology.
Once in place, any errant vehicles, whether going beyond their franchise route or driving recklessly, can quickly be identified, found, and quite possibly stopped in its tracks. With the help of CCTV cameras, any crime committed on these vehicles can also be recorded, its perpetrators identified, and his whereabouts sent to authorities.
Finally, the electronic fare collection will allow the government to more closely monitor the system's earnings, more efficiently apply taxes where applicable, and provide those involved with their due salaries.
Naturally, this plan is massive in scale and very complicated in nature. First of all, it overhauls the very system with which drivers and operators have become accustomed to.
Current drivers and operators are already being urged to surrender their franchises as soon as possible. In return, the government will provide them financial assistance to acquire a new vehicle or even support them if they plan to seek a different profession.
It is also studying a Cash for Clunkers program, similar to what was instituted in the USA, granting those who volunteer their old PUVS for scrapping to earn a certain amount to buy a new vehicle.
Perhaps the toughest resistance is from PUV drivers and operators in this occupation for several generations, and used to the one franchise per operator system. In many cases, the jeepney has been passed down from father to son, serving not only as a means of livelihood but as a family heirloom as well.
The government has a long and tough road ahead of it, particularly in convincing the current drivers and operators to switching to a new system they are unfamiliar with.
Indeed, it is a long a bumpy road, and with 2020 looming closer, it appears there’s still a long way to go. Nonetheless, the prospect of a more organized, efficient, and possibly even greener means of transport is already on the table. It’s just a matter of swallowing the bitter pill.