Jeepney ‘naming mahal’

Note that the modern PUVs are way too expensive in that they cost P2.5 million to P2.6 million a unit.

The transport department’s veiled threat when protesting drivers commenced their short-lived strike leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It should be the last statement a right-thinking regulator would utter in public. In an early dialogue with Malacañang, the transport sector effectively leveraged the status quo pending a full review of the modernization program.

The discomforting blackmail unwittingly put the role of jeepneys in its rightful place, viz., jeepneys are a vital platform of national development. Sadly, rent seekers who can pull strings within the bureaucratic enclave proposed to have jeepneys phased out to sell imported and modern public utility vehicles called “BEEP.”

How ironic that the regulator can lift the implementation of the Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program “easy-peasy” on Day 1 of the transport strike. Even more paradoxical is it’s issuing a directive to its regional directors to allow PUVs to operate outside of their routes if only so that commuters would not be affected by this “tigil pasada” protest.

Its cause for worry was not confined to the National Capital Region but even more so outside of it. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority lacked the agency to persuade other big transport groups not to join the strike.

At the bottom, it’s treating them with disrespect for the Department of Transportation to threaten organized transport groups with administrative and criminal sanctions or revocation of their franchises — as this cannot be remotely accomplished even in a broad stroke.

It’s foolhardy for government to insist that a strike of this resulting magnitude should be dismissed as a violation of the terms of the franchise granted to jeepney drivers and operators. All DoTr does is play “bully in the schoolyard.”

This is the vicious official line that captive mainstream media never fails to put across as if the positional view of the regulator carries strong moral suasion. To say the franchise holder has the obligation to give service to the public, that a franchise is not a right but a mere privilege, and that it can be taken back anytime one fails to comply with the terms — all are empty legalese.

It is lamentable to think that the transport sector, as a whole, has grown too big to be any cause for government concern. Clearly, the culprit in this evolving scene is the government’s Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program, thought to facilitate the operations of PUVs and generate more jobs in the transport sector, except that the prognosis is flawed.

It’s time for Congress to conduct an all-stakeholders transport summit to thresh out whether or not jeepney drivers or operators benefit from the “boundary system” that the regulator wants to remove; the 18 to 20-hour driving horizon that the regulator wants to reduce; the shift to modern PUVs in the transport world that now have proved to be “lemons” even prone to vehicular accidents.

One view believes that the PUV modernization should have been legislated first, if not subjected to the rigors of assessment by the principal stakeholders themselves. Still, the iconic jeepney reflects the local genius of over a dozen jeepney manufacturers.

Note that the modern PUVs are way too expensive in that they cost P2.5 million to P2.6 million a unit. To shell out monthly P20 to P30k to amortize a 15-year loan neither is a walk in the park, any government subsidy notwithstanding.

The only way out of the problem is for all those modern vehicles to go under the hammer. The modern PUVs have proved less than desired since old jeepneys retrofitted with modern and practical amenities exhibit the “badge of lifetime warranty” as a matter of history.

The old jeepney — as a post-World War II artifact — has not outlived its cultural, historical, and industrial integrity as an engineering fete operated by the common man at the least possible fare rate.

As Winston Churchill once said: “Victory is the beautiful bright-colored flower. Transport is the stem without which it could never have blossomed.”

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