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Everything You Need to Know About the PUV Modernization

The best thing you can do is be informed of the discussion.
IMAGE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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The past few weeks have opened very important discussions on the state of our transport system. Just how public is it? Is there really a transport crisis? What is PUV modernization? Why are transport groups like PISTON opposing government initiatives to modernize our broken jeepneys?

The best thing you can do is be informed of the discussion. Whether you’re a driver, a commuter, or a self-professed apolitical person, there’s no escaping the current state of affairs in public transportation.

Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know:

1| Is there a transport crisis? 

Don’t believe what anybody else says: The answer, emphatically, is yes. It doesn’t take a Presidential spokesperson to identify the problem. Manila ranks third in Southeast Asia for worst traffic. There is a Wikipedia article dedicated to Traffic in Metro Manila. EDSA has become synonymous with dazzling hellscapes of hours-long traffic jams and headlights.

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Beyond the jokes and the memes, however, Metro Manila traffic is a serious hindrance to daily life. NEDA estimates that the country loses 3.5 billion pesos a day due to traffic jams. Daily commute has gotten so bad that a person living in Laguna has to leave by 5:30 a.m. if he hopes to reach his office by 9 a.m.; precious hours that could be spent doing literally anything else.

Beyond hellish commute times and lethal traffic, there is a transport crisis in the sense that the underlying infrastructure of our transport economy is, in itself, in crisis. The jeepney and the tricycle, the twin kings of the Philippine road, are antiquated and dangerous, with some jeeps having seen regular use for a decade or more. The LRT and MRT systems, ostensibly public enterprises funded by taxpayer money, not only regularly fail to deliver, but are also operated by private corporations that profit off of commuters’ taxes. Private solutions, known as Transport Network Vehicle Services, capitalize on the traffic and charge commuters extortionate fees for superficial luxury.

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The Philippine economy relies on the transport sector to propel it forward. But people working in transport are still left needing to work 12 to 16 hours a day, plying their routes, just to make ends meet. There is a transport crisis, and only a master mental gymnast or an utter fool can deny it.

2| What is PUV Modernization?

There is no denying that the current state of our public vehicles is alarming. It comes as a shock for no one that there are a lot of vehicles plying their routes that simply aren’t road-worthy. The Duterte administration’s solution for that? Replacing our old jeeps with modern ones.

However, PUV modernization isn’t just replacing old jeeps with new ones. The crux of the issue lies in the DOTr and LTFRB’s proposed guidelines on modernizing both the jeeps and the underlying infrastructure: the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines.

So, what are these franchising guidelines? The OFG ultimately seeks to restructure how franchises (i.e. the license to ply a certain route) are awarded. The OFG limits this by, among others, a road-worthiness criteria and complementing the government PUJ phase-out program.

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Under the OFG, an individual operation can only apply for a franchise if they meet the following criteria:

  • They are part of a transport cooperative or a private corporation, and
  • They are using the new modernized jeepney as provided by the DOTr

Essentially, an individual driver or operator can no longer apply for a franchise, unless they decide to join an LTFRB cooperative or be employed in a private corporation. The cooperative or the corporation will be expected to handle the cost of procuring the modern jeep. Currently, drivers and operations have until July 1, 2020 to comply with the new regulations. After that, the landscape of public transport will change forever.

3| Why are transport groups opposing this?

Groups like PISTON and the No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition oppose the modernization plan because they see it as a pushout of individual operators’ rights to ply their routes. A condition of joining a cooperative is giving up their old jeep and their franchise, in exchange for a loan that will allow them to pay for a modern jeep estimated to cost from 1.2 to 1.6 million pesos. 

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Jeepney drivers, who currently make around 1,000 pesos a day for a whole days’ work, will have to pay 800 pesos a day, every day, for eight years to pay back the loan. This does not take into account other daily expenses like gasoline and food, nor does it take into account family expenses like shelter, bills, education, and so on.

Transport groups also do not see cooperatives as a viable solution. Cooperatives do not have the funds to shoulder franchising costs and the cost of modernized jeeps, while corporate entities are presently poised to make headway into the transport industry. A driver working for a transport corporation will be treated as a wage worker, making minimum wage for eight hours’ work.

The new franchising guidelines also call for a “one operator-one route-one franchise” policy, which means a driver can only have one franchise from an LGU. This means a jeepney ride crossing multiple municipalities will be split up across those municipalities. Commuters will have to ride more jeeps on average to get to where they want, under the OFG.

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These provisions in the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines, transport groups say, will lead to monopolization of the transport sector, privatizing a supposedly “public” sector.

4| What are transport groups proposing as a solution?

Modernization is important, especially for a sector as critical as transportation. However, the policies, as it is, seem to only benefit a small section of manufacturers and corporate owners, while leaving over two million families behind.

Instead of pushing loans to small drivers who can’t pay them back, transport groups are clamoring for the rehabilitation of their current jeeps. By providing services and subsidies that will allow existing jeeps to modernize, it allows drivers and operators to keep their current means of livelihood while easing the brunt of expenses away from them. 

Another point of contention is the manufacturers of the modernized jeeps. The Euro 4 engines that will be used for modernization are imports from Germany. Transport groups cite that this could have been an opportunity to create a thriving, independent national industry, which would help solve one of the fundamental problems of Philippine society, its economic dependence on other countries.

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At the end of the day, the transportation crisis and PUV modernization is a long, nuanced conversation. It’s not just about traffic woes or livelihood concerns; it’s a sprawling set of arguments about socio-economic and labor rights. In any case, there’s no question that the transport sector buoys the rest of the economy, and as such, a solution to the ongoing crisis must take into account all sides.

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About The Author
Justin Umali
Justin is left-handed, left-leaning, and best left in a cool, damp place. He listens to Vampire Weekend when he's down and Car Seat Headrest when he's not. He usually writes about Philippine history and politics, and believes that you cannot change the world without understanding it first.
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