If you ever navigated a commute around the streets of Metro Manila, you may have encountered a modern jeepney or e-jeepney—one of the many changes brought by the Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Modernization Program. Launched in 2017, the program aimed to increase the efficiency, environmental-friendliness, sustainability, and safety of PUVs by phasing out old models and replacing them with new and improved ones.
This shift from traditional jeepneys to e-jeepneys has impacted operators, drivers, and passengers in various ways. Although these modern e-jeepneys hit the streets years ago, they are yet to completely replace traditional jeepneys.
Behind the wheel
Casper Boongaling Agaton, an associate professor at the Department of Community and Environmental Resource Planning from the University of the Philippines (UP) Los Baños, explains how the new vehicles are shown to be more efficient as they can sustain longer hours, thus increasing daily ridership and revenue. “These jeepneys have a higher quality in terms of vehicle condition, reliability, information, convenience, and safety,” he expounds.
In addition, Sandy Mae Gaspay, an associate professor at the UP Institute of Civil Engineering and the officer-in-charge director at the National Center for Transport Studies, discussed how these new jeepneys comply with dimensional standards for safety. According to her, the side exits of the e-jeepney are safer than the back exits of the traditional jeepney. Moreover, the former also has a height step requirement, allowing better accessibility for senior citizens and individuals with physical impairments. “Before, most of the jeepneys were created by these backyard industries, so [it was not] tested [for] safety. Now, it’s a more formal manufacturing process,” she remarks.
A cleaner road
Agaton also discusses how the improved engines of e-jeepneys can minimize carbon emissions. “Modernization means less pollution and, for our economy, this project will result in less dependence on imported fossil fuel products,” he notes. The new engines emit about one gram of carbon monoxide per kilometer, compared to the nine grams of traditional jeepneys. However, he also attributes the decrease in carbon emissions to the decreased number of vehicles on the road, especially during lockdown periods.
Gaspay shares similar sentiments, expressing hope for the increase of modern jeepneys on the road. “We’re using cleaner fuel [and] cleaner technology, and eventually [there will be more] modern jeeps. So definitely, it’s for the better,” she remarks.
Although the face of Philippine jeepneys has remained unchanged for over 70 years, the pandemic brought new challenges faced by both sides of the public transport sector. Francois Abedejos, a regular commuter in Metro Manila, points out how the pandemic saw fewer jeepneys in operation. Also, although e-jeepneys are poised as safer and greener alternatives to traditional jeepneys, drivers and operators find it difficult to keep up with the innovation amid soaring prices and lockdowns during the pandemic.
Mody Floranda, national president of Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide shares how the pandemic rendered many among the transport sector jobless, “After three months [of the pandemic] ay makikita na natin ‘yung mga drayber ay namamalimos, humihingi na ng tulong sa mga terminal [at] kalsada, huminihingi ng tulong sa ating mga kababayan dahil sa malaking epekto na ginawa ng gobyerno na pag-lockdown ay pati kabuhayan ng mga drayber ay ni-lockdown.”
(After three months [of the pandemic], we saw our drivers begging for help in our terminals [and] streets, they sought the help of others because the government’s lockdown had a huge impact on them as their livelihood was on lockdown too.)
The pandemic brought the modernization program to a halt, causing jeepney drivers and operators to look into government support to finance their daily needs. While the government promised P2.5 billion in fuel subsidies for 2023, Floranda believes this is just a band-aid solution to a bigger problem. With new jeepney units priced from P2.8 to P3.3 million after the six percent interest rate from the loans, jeepney drivers and operators only take home P300 to P400 per day after working 12- to 18-hour shifts on the road.
Paving the way
While jeepney operators are struggling to make ends meet with their meager earnings and growing debt from added expenses, Floranda calls for the government to remove tax from fuel products, which amounts to P16 per liter of gasoline. If implemented, the economic benefits will affect not only the transport sector, but also consumers of petroleum products.
Most modern jeepney units are also outsourced from Japan. With this, Floranda stresses the importance of utilizing the local industry and its manufacturing capabilities. “Bakit ang hindi gawin ng gobyerno ay magtayo ng sarili nating industriya ng makina at ng bakal dito sa ating bansa sapagkat nasa Pilipinas ang mga sangkap para makalikha ng sasakyan, [including] ang mga hilaw na materyales,” union leader posits.
(Why isn’t our government focusing on building our own industry in the country as the Philippines has the resources to create vehicles, [including] the raw materials?)
Furthermore, if the government was to eventually bring jeepney production to local soil, Agaton reminds authorities to employ clean energy from renewable resources in the manufacturing process. “If we are not transforming our renewable energy sector into a more efficient and sustainable system, then our efforts to transform our public utility sector will not be sustainable or efficient,” he advises.
On a larger scale
Although the modernization program is a step closer to achieving better road transport in the country, upgrading jeepneys is only one part of the solution to the transportation crisis. Despite being five years into this program, Manila remains the eighth city in the world with the worst traffic. This has left millions of Filipino commuters stuck on the road for hours at a stretch.
Since various public transport systems, like buses and jeepneys, can take more passengers at a time compared to private vehicles, providing Filipinos with more access to sustainable and reliable transportation could heed the traffic woes experienced by local consumers on a daily basis.
In a time of rising oil prices and inflation rates, turning urban districts into walkable cities could help people reach their destinations without spending a single centavo. With this, Gaspay also encourages lawmakers to improve sidewalks and bike lanes to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists in the metro.
While the modernization program lobbies for safer and greener transportation for all Filipinos, much support is needed for drivers and commuters alike to make a living off the changing landscape of the transportation industry.