Transport strike’s a go despite extension


COME hell or high water, transport groups are determined to paralyze public transportation starting today (March 6) to sustain their opposition to the government’s modernization program.

Jeepney group Manibela, whose chairman Mar Valbuena leads the week-long transport strike, said the protest involves some 40,000 transport workers from different sectors: jeepneys, UV Express, tricycles, and ride-hailing.

“We are meeting with jeepney and UV organizations left and right and they understand the truth behind the modernization program,” Valbuena said. “We will continue with the transport strike as planned.”

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is bent on defusing the effect of the weeklong transport strike, which has already prompted several organizations, companies, and even schools to cancel in-person activities and rely on remote work and learning solutions to continue with their day-to-day business.

LTFRB Technical Division Chief Joel Bolano said the agency decided to issue special permits to other PUVs to ply routes that will be affected by the transport strike.

Special permits allow drivers and operators to operate routes outside of their franchises.

“All of our offices nationwide are ready to issue these special permits,” he said.

Propeople modernization

Transport group Piston is also joining the strike, saying it opposes current policies of the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP).

“Extensions are not enough. We cannot allow the massacre of franchises of individual operators that results in the monopolization by big corporations. Our call is for the outright cancellation of the franchise consolidation, but we are for a propeople modernization,” Piston National President Mody Floranda said.

The group, along with its supporters, Floranda said are “demanding” that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.  “immediately issue an executive order junking” the Department of Transportation (DOTr) order on the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines (OFG) and its implementing memorandum circulars issued by the LTFRB.

Floranda said modernization can be implemented in the form of rehabilitation of traditional jeepneys. The group also called for “more subsidy and support for PUV drivers and small operators.”

Officially introduced in 2017, the PUVMP is a 10-point program that ultimately involves the phaseout of the old PUVs to make way for more modern and environmentally-friendly vehicles.

A crucial step toward this vision is the consolidation of individual franchises into transport cooperatives or corporations, to provide groups access to business financing to bankroll the acquisition of modern vehicles.

Senators on Thursday called for the indefinite suspension of the program, noting lapses in the framework of the initiative.

Lawmakers chided the LTFRB and the DOTr for supposedly forcing jeepney drivers to acquire new vehicles that cost between P2.4 million and P2.8 million per unit while they make P650 per day.

They also cited the “poor” implementation of the program, which to date, has a 4.5 percent success rate, with only 6,814 modern jeepneys deployed versus the universe of 158,000 PUVs with franchises.

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 2018.

Latest data from the LTFRB showed about 62.4 percent or about 98,000 jeepneys 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 at risk of losing their livelihoods if they fail to consolidate by December 31.

Let government pay

Meanwhile, transport economist Jedd Ugay said the government’s initiative should not force ordinary jeepney drivers to shoulder the cost of acquiring new units. Instead, the government can explore allocating a feasible budget of P15 billion to jumpstart its modernization plans.

This, he said, is only fair, given that the government spends billions of public funds to finance several modern infrastructure, including the P102-billion Subway, the P152-billion North-South Commuter Railway, and the P17.5-billion Mactan-Cebu International Airport.

“Imagine if government can allocate P15 billion for PUV Modernization: That’s only equivalent to 14.7 percent of the budget for Mega Manila Subway, which is expected to carry 370,000 passengers per day. It is also just equivalent to 9.8 percent of the budget for North-South Commuter Railway, which is expected to carry 400,000 passengers per day. And also less than the budget for the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, which is expected to have a 22,000 passenger capacity per day,” he said.

Ugay said P15 billion can buy 5,357 units of modern jeepneys at a cost price of P2.8 million.

“If each modernized jeepney can carry 20 people, that’s 107,140 passengers per trip. If a jeepney can do an average of 10 trips per day, then that means 1.071 million passengers per day. These are still conservative estimates; and it can be argued that they can carry more,” he said.

The transport economist also noted that if the government can take on the burden of vehicle procurement and financing costs, it may also enable lower fares which can benefit commuters. This also means that it can also speed up the timeline for modernization, enabling the Philippines to reap the benefits of cleaner air and better road safety more immediately.

“If government can provide a large budget to railways, roadways, and airports, why can’t we provide a similar budget to jeepneys, which already currently carry so much more passengers and have a wider-reaching network?” Ugay asked.

More than just contractors, Ugay said the government should treat jeepney drivers and operators as “partners toward common goals.”

“If government can provide substantial financial incentives and subsidies to large companies — e.g. energy sector to become cleaner/modern/renewable—then we should also be able to provide the same level of support to our public transport sector,” he said. “If we help them, then ultimately we help commuters and the whole public in general.”