Indefinite extension of PUV deadline urged


SENATORS and transport groups have urged the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to extend the deadline for the consolidation of public utility vehicle (PUV) franchises indefinitely until they come up with a more realistic and fair PUV Modernization Program (PUVMP).

At the Senate Committee on Public Services hearing chaired by Sen. Grace Poe on Thursday, lawmakers said the agency should stop trifling with the timelines for the consolidation of PUVs and take a pause to review the program’s design.

“Stop giving us short extensions. Tell us how long it really takes to implement this,” Deputy Minority Leader Senator Risa Hontiveros said.

Majority Leader Joel Villanueva even said the department should temporarily implement the program and review if it is really viable,  citing the mere income of jeepney drivers of P650 per day.

“There is a problem with the design of the program. It’s crystal clear. While there is a problem, we should pause and review it,” he said.

Villanueva cited several reasons why the government should take a step back in implementing the whole program.

For one, he said, jeepney drivers make only P650 on a daily basis. Versus the cost of a basic modern jeepney—pegged between P2.4 million and P2.8 million per unit—he finds it illogical and impossible for a driver to afford a new unit.

Villanueva also rated the LTFRB as “poor” in implementing the PUVMP, a program launched in 2017.

He explained, citing data from the regulator, that out of roughly 158,000 PUVs with franchises today, only 6,814 jeepneys are considered modern, which translates to only a 4.5 percent success rate.

Flagged by COA

Moreover, he said the Commission on Audit (COA) had flagged the LTFRB for failing to complete three projects under the PUVMP: the P319-million public information center, the P45-million route rationalization study for Metro Manila, and the P28-million route rationalization study for inter-province routes.

“If the agency is hard-pressed in implementing these projects, why is it rushing drivers and operators into the modernization program?” he asked.

Furthermore, Villanueva said the route rationalization plans of local government units have yet to be approved. Citing data earlier provided by the LTFRB during the hearing, Villanueva said only 139 out of 1,575 plans have been approved.

‘Effectively a phaseout’

PUV operators and drivers have until end-December to consolidate their franchises into cooperatives or transport corporations. This target has been moved several times since it was first implemented in 2018. The last extension, from June 30 to December 31 this year, was announced late Wednesday amid frantic efforts to stop restive transport workers from ppushing through with a planned weeklong strike over LTFRB’s memorandum circular.

Villanueva pointed out that jeepney and UV Express drivers that fail to consolidate before the deadline will be “effectively phased out,” as their certificates of public convenience (CPCs) or provisional authorities (PAs) will revert to the state for not complying with the mandates.

“If they fail to consolidate, the state has to recover their franchises. They will be left without livelihood,” he said.

Latest data from the LTFRB showed that about 62.4 percent or about 98,000 jeepneyes have consolidated nationwide, while 71.7 percent or about 14,000 of the roughly 19,000 UV Express have consolidated.

This means that about 65,000 drivers are in danger of losing their livelihood if they fail to consolidate by December 31.

Commuter group Komyut Representative Toix Cerna said this means that about 2.28 million commuters per day will be affected should the consolidation rate remain at its current level now.

She said her group agrees that the government should evaluate the program and even give it a total makeover.

“It might be the time to review the program. The PUVMP, we believe, had a lot of ills over the course of five years. Maybe we can review it and change its name to transition into a better transport service for commuters. But for us, we just want a good supply of transport options,” Cerna said.

Strike to continue as planned

Some groups that have successfully formed cooperatives, like that of Ferdinand Lupangosy’s 997 Cooperative, noted that the consolidation allowed the group to optimize the use of the units and even generated more job opportunities for more people.

He cited, for instance, that of the 19 modernized jeepneys that his group acquired, instead of 19 operators benefiting from the units, 87 people generate income out of them.

“For 19 modernized jeepneys, we have 38 drivers, 38 passenger assistance officers [colloquially called conductors], three mechanics, five office staff, and six dispatchers—in total 87 people benefit from our cooperative,” he said.

But for jeepney group Manibela President Mar Balbuena, the government should really put a stop to the program, and not just the consolidation.

“We are opposed to the consolidation because there are cooperatives that remove the rights of franchise owners once they surrender their franchises to their cooperatives,” he said. “Consolidation failed because of this.”

Juancho Capreno of the Association of Committed Transport Organization Nationwide echoed Balbuena’s sentiments, saying consolidation only results in benefits for one person.

“We are against consolidation because the reality of it, it will only result in the cooperatives benefiting from it and not the actual franchise holders. We should fix the system first before implementing this,” he said.

Balbuena said Manibela along with other transport groups will continue with the transport strike slated for March 6.

LTFRB Chairman Teofilo Guadiz III noted that the agency is now working to defuse this and minimize the effects of the transport strike on commuters.

‘Not yet ready’

Senator Poe urged the transport department and transport regulator to fix the framework first before imposing a deadline.

“Before giving a deadline, fix the program first,” she said. “The LTFRB is not really ready because we still haven’t rationalized the routes. If we keep on just extending the deadline, then those that have already formed cooperatives will be discouraged.”

However, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista believes that the government should provide a deadline so that stakeholders will follow.

“I believe that we should have a deadline and this should not be open-ended. If we don’t give a deadline, no one will follow. We will not be able to implement the PUVMP if we don’t impose deadlines,” he said.

However, he noted that the government is always open to extending it, as it is also “committed” to ironing out the kinks of the framework.

“Next to consolidation is route modernization, after that, we will talk about operations—scheduling included. Right now, it’s hard to ride public transport because we don’t have proper standards,” he said.

Bautista added: “I am asking for us to continue the consolidation. It’s one of the most important components of our program. This will be the start and will trigger the success of the PUVMP.”

The transport chief added that his office is always open for dialogue to resolve issues related to the program.

“I know that this is not a perfect program for now, but with dialogue and the right communication, we can resolve whatever issues or problems that we see,” he said.