When it comes to resisting change [and demanding fare increases], our Jeepney lobby isn't any more militant than most transport workers unions across the developed world. You can forget the empty boasts of the Left and their allies in the legislature who only know how to argue by parroting slogans. It's really all about entitlement, the desire to keep and fight for the privileges they believe they deserve for providing the national economy fast, reliable, accessible and cheap mass transportation. We're talking about 260,000 vehicles and more than a million souls directly dependent on daily PUJ [Public Utility Jeepney] earnings.

Here we go again

To prevent another strike, the Senate attempted to broker a peace by inviting the most vociferous of all, PISTON, to a Senate hearing with the DoTr. Through many years of this us vs. all Jeepney predicament, and in vintage Left class struggle style, PISTON decried that the subsidy was paltry, the amortization of Euro 4 compliant Jeepneys would bankrupt them and that the modernization program was just a greedy corporatist grab to monopolize their historical entitlement.

Alas, the politician-led compromise – for DoTr to allow “good condition” surplus and existing Jeepneys to continue their trade - was essentially a back-to-the-past never ending rerun of the Jeepney rehab program, where the same Jeepneys “pass” and so, keep to the road for 40 years and counting. LTO's still born MVIS [Motor Vehicle Inspection Service] was to determine when Jeepneys were to be taken off the road, but ever since the LTO privatized emissions testing, they mothballed the few MVIS centers that were operating.

PISTON makes no bones about the absolute minimum they are willing to accept; 100% state subsidy for each new Jeepney on their terms, of course. But instead of a handout and retention of their ugly 40 year old Jeepneys, in 10 year old look disguise, the government has countered that it will establish a new national or regional PUV coop, which will take the burden of purchasing and maintaining Jeepneys, maintaining transport franchise away from drivers and operators, unto the government transit coop itself and hence treat all other Jeepney drivers as prospective drivers and conductors of the new transit coop.

The boundary

Unlike hard core socialist transport workers unions in Europe, our Jeepney lobby comes from the opposite side of the ideological divide. These are mostly entrepreneurial mom and pop Jeepney operators, families who afford to own and maintain a unit or two. Even the drivers, a highly enterprising and individual lot, are not in anyway your time bound automatons of Communist bloc factories. Both operators and drivers come together to ply the government authorized route. Compensation for the owner/operators is by the so-called boundary, a fixed daily rental fee that the drivers pay the operator while fuel expenses are shouldered by the driver. Anything on top of that, is the driver's income. But their relationship is not as simple as that.

Jeepney PISTON

Ad hoc foundations

Inherited from the “Calesa” horse drawn carriage for hire system that predated the US Army's dumping of WW2 Jeeps in the Islands post war, the Jeepney business has few barriers to entry. College degrees don't count, costs are minimized wherever possible. Like the “kutsero” -[calesa driver]-calesa [horse drawn carriage] relationship of old, garages are usually the public street at night.

Terminals or Jeepney stops are wherever the prime customer, the commuter, wants to disembark or embark, the former, at a knock to the Jeepney ceiling or the latter, a wave of a hand from the curb. Maintenance is usually by shade tree mechanics, paid with a modest barbecue and beer dinner. Traffic violations in the course of serving the public are dealt thru friendly community relations with the traffic authorities and "donations" or glad handing to prioritize “keep the commuting public moving”. The whole Jeepney culture or industry embraces a micro-economy employing unemployable people as “barkers”, [boys who shout the route destination to peddle the ride to destination], “starters” [boys who call for rides and maximizes people capacity]car wash boys and “bantays” or kids who sleep in the jeeps overnight like a guard dog to his master's housegate.

The jeepney-operator relationship is a deep social bind where the operator plays trusted benevolent surrogate father or tribal chieftain, the run-to guy whenever the driver gets into trouble, usually financial. This tightly wound symbiosis explains why both employer and employee march to the same cause when it comes to industrial action to gain a fare increase. They block unreasonable rules by authorities and anything that upsets the status quo.

Auto Calesa

The Jeepneys' bow to their Calesa origins by sporting chromed statues of horses on their hoods. Before the “PUJ” category and the government required franchise to operate was created, Jeeps with extended Jeep bodies, seating 4 jitney style [face to face] were designated A/C or auto calesa. The colorful pin striping, curicules and murals are a throwback from the sails of the Vintas, the plumage of the macho preening cockfighting rooster, the riot of colors/fear of vacuum inherent in Indo-Malay art and, in the 70s, folkloric rock band culture.

Lightly taxed

The success of the Jeepney system is grounded on its simplicity. And simply because there was no one else around. There are no qualification exams for the drivers other than possession of a Professional driver's license and a cursory knowledge of the authorized route. The operator's main expense is acquiring and maintaining the Jeepney and acquisition of a CPC [certificate of public conveyance] from the LTFRB [Land transportation franchise and regulatory Board], which is a franchise to operate a Jeepney on a specified route. The operator also must pay the 3.0% gross receipts tax or Common Carrier tax; exceed a certain amount over a million, then 12.0% VAT kicks in. The Jeepney travels without a conductor or fare collector. The driver is multi-tasked to remember each fare, where they embark and disembark and to be ready to pass back exact change.

Jeepney PISTON

At the expense of railroad coverage

With such a simple set-up and literally no barriers to entry, the Jeepney grew to be an indispensable pillar in national mass transit. With limited rail coverage, thanks to the destruction of WW2, the transport backbone of the country relied on the Jeepneys for inter urban transport and buses, generally for big cities and cross country, with the tricycle coming into its own in the late 70s. Jeepneys have morphed from the Willy's military jeep into the giant 22-seater mega-jeep mongrels of today built on extended chassis of Japanese light trucks powered by 70's era diesel engines overhauled for the nth time.

There was a time when Jeepneys were at their agile best at 12 seats built on locally stamped chassis with hand-bashed metal bodies [Sarao] or stamped steel [Francisco Motors] powered by vintage Mercedes Benz 180D or Isuzu C190 series diesel engines and steered by Isuzu truck steering recirc-ball boxes. But these humanely scaled Jeepneys were junked because they took more trips to fulfill the boundary, forcing the driver to extend his driving hours. They needed bigger Jeepneys to increase their incomes. The profit motive knows no class boundaries; it is not just the big conglomerates who sacrifice the welfare of their customers in search for bigger margins.

Taxes are always a bother

As the country grew and progressed, the Jeepney idyll as a public service on the fringes of the formal economy could no longer be sustained. Congestion, pollution and modern accident safety standards demanded that the Jeepney culture change its ways. A growing population and a more active bureaucracy demanded that Jeepneys pay taxes. As it stands, Jeepney operators are required to pay 3.0% of gross receipts as CCT or Common Carriers tax. This is presuming that Jeepneys issue receipts. Drivers are supposed to file an ITR [income tax return]. Their earnings, minus fuel and boundary is supposed to pay for their dual role as driver and conductor. Glance at a Jeepney drivers hands as he steers the truck like steering wheel inches from his chest, and you will see cash bills squeezed between his fingers, in order of denomination. They spend long hours on the road to make the boundary. To expect the driver/operator to fulfill such minimal regulatory paper work is expecting too much.

Jeepney PISTON

DoTr's Jeepney modernization program

The current DoTr Jeepney modernization [euphemism for phase-out] or reform, spanning 3 presidential administrations, is a product of continuous research and tweaking. It is one of the most comprehensive ever as it seeks a complete overhaul of how the PUJ sector works. Now that the current administration is willing to fund the modernization program, it seeks to accomplish the following:

1. Redistribute and rationalize all PUJ routes to allow maximum commuter coverage and enable fair value for both commuter and operator for the officially sanctioned fare, minimize route conflict/confusion and reduce pollution.

2. Reclassify Jeepneys as per seating/standing capacity ratios

3. Adopt environmental friendly standard Euro 4 engines or electric hybrid propulsion

4. Improve passenger comfort by increasing minimum headroom

5. Enhance safety by increasing the ratio of forward facing seats, all with seat belts

6. Eliminate the rear entry by mandating side door curb side entry

7. Establish minimum safety standards for Jeepney classification.

8. Require compulsory passenger accident insurance

9. Encourage full regular employment by salary and benefits for all drivers/conductors

10. Require Jeepneys to have off street parking and garage

11. Require proper PUJ stops, on acquired or rented real estate outside of road right of way

12. Apply minimum capital requirements for Jeepney cooperatives and encourage single unit owners to join such cooperatives.

Item 12 is meant to provide the Jeepney owners and drivers a financially stable platform to afford bank loan credit worthiness, plus the administrative expenses and insurance that will arise from the upgrading of the Jeepney system to a full corporate/cooperative organization.

From the first BEEP

The local body building and truck assembling industry has responded to cater to the new Jeepney. Mitsubishi's BEEP, a mini bus based on the Grua [Austria] town mini bus, was introduced in 2009 and sports Euro 4 compliant diesel engines plus more forward facing seats and proper standing roof rails. Centro body builders have introduced PUJ bodies adapted for Isuzu NKR and Fuso Canter cab chassis, though the high chassis greatly reduces standing headroom. Centro even incorporated the multicolor Jeepney theme and 7 vertical bar grille of the original Willy's Jeep. Soon, Almazora and Del Monte, renowned bus body builders introduced their versions. Hino of Japan, Tata of India and Foton of China joined the fray. As the competition heats up, the successful prototypes will qualify as the 3rd entry under the DTI CARS Program where theoretically production runs are subsidized with tax incentives.

Jeepney PISTON

Public light bus

LTFRB went so far as to classify not only between air con and non-air con, but also between big [inner city] and bigger [inter-city] capacity. Honestly speaking, there is really no need to reinvent the wheel here. The ideal Jeepneys, dubbed ECO-PUV, are concept-wise, akin to the Public Light Buses of Hong Kong which are the size of the Mitsubishi Rosa, Toyota Coaster or Hyundai County. If they be too wide for our multi-lane city streets, we can also adopt the more compact high roof versions of the Mercedes Benz Sprinter [like Vietnam], VW Crafter, Ford Transit, Hyundai H350 and Iveco Turbo-daily. Or even their Chinese copies. Conceptually, the Jeepney can even simply be the “local” version of the UV Express – essentially Hyundai Starex, Toyota Hi-Ace and Nissan Urvan vans – making frequent stops to pick up or deliver passengers. There will be no problem building these vans under the CARS Program either.

Rejection sustained

Though the PISTON Jeepney drivers-operators union is the most vociferous and activist, it is not the only Jeepney organization. There are dozens of older associations but the really powerful unions are the regional and local ones. PISTON on the other hand gets a giant boost as it is allied with the more extreme Left organizations and radical labor unions, who have in typical class struggle dogma, dishonestly characterized the Jeepney Modernization program as a grab by greedy capitalists.

Nevertheless, all these Government promises, like in previous, has been rejected by the Jeepney lobby as they see this as imposing an impossible financial and administrative burden eventually pricing them out of existence. All the reforms cost big money and despite government assurances that there will be Land Bank loans to finance their migration to the new reformed Jeepney system, the Jeepney drivers/operators cringe at being under further scrutiny and disapprove of having to fulfill many requirements that they used to take for granted. They also argue that the marginalized workers – the barkers, starters, car wash and bantays – will stand to lose their jobs.

Appeasement

Hence, almost like a serial script, Jeepney strikes, apart from fare increases, always demand the status quo, as it is their entitlement, their comfort zone. This is why the Sotto-Poe compromise of allowing “passable” Jeepneys from the current fleet is nothing but a hoodwinked rehash of what the Jeepney lobby has gotten away with for the past 40 years. Which is not acceptable to the government and the rest of the national citizenry. PRRD has already said that the Jeepney industry is responsible for the pulmonary ailments in urban areas and this abuse of the majority is not acceptable. Government technocrats and the public utility technocrats in DoTr claim that rationalizing the fares, compensation and routes, will lead to smoother operations with route capacity in keeping with customer demand. So, what can be done to appease them and at the same time finally move forward with the long delayed modernization?

Jeepney PISTON

Pleasing the Jeepney king

What would make the Jeepney operators happy is that the government shoulder the cost of replacement of their jeepneys and either cancel all the new regulatory and documentary requirements or have government itself administer their regulatory requirements. The Jeepney lobby accuses the government of pushing them to accept the alternative for Government mandated private conglomerate franchised to operate in the entire city. This is indeed an economically palatable alternative : to bid out the administration and management of the Jeepney system to the private sector via an O&M PPP. The model is Metropolitan Water System's franchising Maynilad Water and Manila Water to service water needs. But to the Jeepney lobby, its just another greedy corporatist grab at their means of living.

The solution tried before

Now come to think of it, why should the Jeepney be treated differently from other forms of public conveyance like city buses, provincial buses, taxi's, tricycles and TNVC's like Uber and Grab? Or what is to stop the the Jeepney system from becoming a state owned public transport organization, similar to what the 1971 Metro Manila Transit Corp. did for the buses of Metro Manila. In fact that was the thinking in the 70s – why should there be a special mom-pop-enterprise category for Jeepneys? The country's bus industry was already streamlining because of heightened competition with more and more mom-pop-enterprise bus companies being absorbed by larger and capital-stable professional outfits. Why should the Philippines and the Jeepneys be different from other countries? Save for some Latin American countries, big cities usually had one or 2 well regulated public transport monopolies that unified and coordinated intermodal means of transport from river ferries, light rail, subway, light buses and even taxi's. Today's TfL or transport for London is an example of a well integrated public transport system.

The Jeepney as bus

Hence, the proposed Jeepney corporation will hence be run like a bus company- with proper terminals, stops, salaried employees [barkers, starters, etc. included] and since they will now be run like a regular bus company, the driver will now have a conductor on tow so as to relieve the driver from distracted driving because of fare collection. It will have an administrative staff in order to pay salaries, expenses and all the proper taxes, withheld at source. Or this can be the new function of the private operator who can be compensated for his/her efforts via a cut in the daily income or a contract fee or a salary. The creation of a corporation or a cooperative was part of DoTr's Jeepney modernization. Instead of one super Metro wide corporation capitalized at a whooping 500M, the revised DoTr reform offers several sizes of cooperatives and corporations depending on membership, paid-in capital and number of units assigned to public transport, though, for reasons of equity and practicality, there will be no one-unit cooperatives. LTFRB will be tightly entwined in Jeepney operations, managing and changing franchised routes, maintaining route efficiency and making sure the new Jeepneys tow the line.

Driver/conductor motivation: like Uber?

Drivers and Conductors will now have a basic subsistence salary. But in order to motivate them to perform better and maximize ridership, they will be given an incentive pro rata for every day they exceed a certain ridership minimum or floor. It will work like a bonus paid like a boundary system but it will no longer mean the driver's subsistence is dependent on it. This eliminates trip cutting, reckless driving and traffic rule violations. Moreover, this additional income can be tracked and taxed. Perhaps the ideal, the dream scenario is what entices Uber partners to invest in a new car and let the Uber driving pay for itself while keeping the Uber driver well compensated in exchange for adherence to a strict code of conduct and performance based accreditation, renewed periodically.

Jeepney PISTON

There goes the driver

The government also devised the 5-6-7-8 system of finance, essentially 5.0% down payment, 6.0% interest per annum, 7-years to pay and PHP80,000 subsidy for Jeepney acquisition. Though the proposed modernization program leaves room for the possibility of driver's amortizing ownership of their units, unless there is a drastically high increase in fares, a driver owned unit, ala Uber, may not be feasible. Besides, the new rules discourage “lone wolf” operator franchise.

So to answer the complaint of PISTON and their left allies of diminished take home pay; the driver has a better chance and a more stable income if he just becomes an employee of the big bus/jeepney corporation. Even a quid-pro-quo – government supplies all the new Jeepneys, driver's pay rent on a daily basis collected as a cut in their reported daily fare income, just like the boundary – so sensible and practical. The only difficulty with this is for drivers who cannot accept having to answer to a boss other than themselves. Not surprisingly PISTON scoffs at all of these.

There goes the operator

Government believes, after so many tries, that this Jeepney modernization will most likely be the most acceptable Jeepney reform ever. It is well funded and if PRRD has his way no operator or driver will be able to cling to their old Jeepney units by 2018 as these will be junked in favor of the new modern Jeepney. Now this creates another problem, another bone of contention and this time it will be the operators who will resist. Ironic since it is these very same Jeepney operators who have been lobbying the government for heavy subsidies for the new jeepney units.

This is far dearer than the GMA era attempt for a wholesale government sponsored engine replacement program to achieve Euro 4 emissions compliance. These climbing costs, a result of long neglected expenses for safer and cleaner Jeepney, zaps the very Operator who clamored for all the government freebies. Simply, the Operator's position or function goes extinct, with the government or the PPP O&M contractor or even the Coop's officers taking over his role as surrogate father, emergency loan provider and just plain benevolent boss. Still personal relations count for a lot in such sectors of the informal economy so we will have to see how this plays out.

PUJ's; transform to PLB's

The Operator substitute dilemma makes it the major hurdle for the Jeepney lobby to accept what is essentially a well funded cash take over of their transport industry. Since they will lose the one familiar means of living, you can expect them to fight tooth and nail. If this resistance is overcome, the Jeepney public utility as an industry will now become just like its better organized and readily regulated bus public utility, which it should have been in the first place. And if one is not the sentimental type, perhaps, we can call this new modernized Jeepney system – the Public Light Bus. Will we reach a point when the new Jeepney [or PLB] will be the kind that the commuting public itself will be worth fighting for? Like Uber's “the Filipino is worth driving for”? We will only know if PISTON stop fighting it.