Six issues the government needs to address on the proposed jeepney modernization program

This commentary on the proposed jeepney modernization program was first published at Edna Aquino’s Facebook 

Anyone out there who thinks that the striking jeepney drivers and their supporters are mere troublemakers, “destabilizers” and have not done their homework to study the proposed jeepney modernization program being offered by the government should think twice and read this article.

jeepney modernization
Photo by Jeff Jacinto. Some rights reserved.

One should also google the background of the negotiations between the striking jeepney drivers and the government . These have been going on for a long time.

I support a jeepney modernization program that is inclusive, empowering and accessible/ affordable to the jeepney drivers at subsistence level; encouraging to jeepney owners and ultimately, one which offers safe and convenient transport to the riding public. Here is my take on the issue after taking a closer look on this since day 01 of the transport strike.

1. I am not finding any disagreement between the strikers and the government that “public transportation is a service that has to be reliable, safe and affordable for commuters”. The divergence in stand point between the two parties centres on the question of “who stands to benefit in financial terms – primarily profit – from the modernization program”. This article asserts that “public transport is a public utility and should not be left to the profit-seeking interest of the market” and this is my starting point too.

2. The government proposal is very flawed or at least problematic on several counts:

a. there are no statistics that would show the complexities of the jeepney transport industry. For instance – a breakdown of how many owner -drivers there are; how many are non-owners; what is the range of ownership of jeepneys – maximum and minimum?

b. Only the striking drivers’ group PISTON have done its homework in sofar as having a socio -economic breakdown of income vs expenditures of a typical jeepney driver in a day.

These two statistics are vital in determining which segment of the industry would be most in need of government support to make the program become more inclusive. As it stands, the govt proposal of a “one size fits all” approach to the problem – as if there is a level playing field across the industry – will invariably benefit the bigger fleet owners more than the individual drivers in subsistence level. And of course – it will benefit the sellers of the vehicles and the lending financial institutions. There is clearly a danger in the plan to consolidate jeepney owner-operators – the more fleet they have, the more perks they will get from the government. This is not inclusive ; instead it is divisive and will further push the drivers – who already have very little negotiating power left in them – to the mercy of these operators. The govt program should prioritize its incentives to non-owner drivers and small fleet owners and the idea of a self-managed jeepney driver-owners cooperative is a step in the right direction.

3. The financing rate of 5 or 6% APR rate being offered to jeepney owners is the prevailing market rate in car/ vehicle loans by government and private banks. This is NOT a preferential rate and is definitely not accessible to drivers in subsistence level. The government and private financial institutions have lots of cash to cover the financing and can very well afford to lower the interest rates below the prevailing market rate. At the very least, there could be a tiered approach to financing to meet the diverse range of needs and capacity to pay by the different segments of the jeepney transport industry.

4. In the meantime, has there been a market study of the riding public preferences and needs to enjoy a ‘safe, reliable, and affordable” jeepney ? Why insist on one particular model?

5. What is the lifespan of the vehicles being offered? Have the maintenance costs been factored in the projected costs vs income ?

6. Senator Recto’s counter proposal to try out the program in selected areas and to draw lessons and insights from these is very sensible and could make a realistic step forward.