Tug of war over new jeepneys rules
by Stefano Vecchia

The authorities reiterate that 30 June is the deadline for joining cooperatives, the first step towards modernising the country’s cheapest and most popular public form of transit. Reducing pollution is another goal, but almost one jeepney in three is driven by an individual owner operator who might not be able to afford the transition.

Manila (AsiaNews) – The tug of war over jeepneys, the Philippines’ typical minibuses, seems destined to continue, pitting the authorities, who want to get rid of them or force them to meet environmental regulations, and owners who enjoy the support of the poor who use them as cheap means of transport.

Based on US jeeps left at the end of World War II, jeepneys are built in scores of workshops;  highly personalised and surprisingly robust, they are also gas guzzlers and very polluting.

Because of the pandemic, they were not allowed to operate under lockdown rules, but by late December last year, they were back on the road.

For many Filipinos, they are the only means of public transit, even more so in rural areas where 52 per cent of travellers use them on short distances but they are also used to move small freight and can take on any road in every season.

Countrywide, the owners of 96,000 of the 158,000 operating jeepneys (61 per cent) have joined cooperatives, thus complying with the consolidation requirements of the Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) modernisation programme.

Of those that remain, at least 50,000 are still operated by individual owners, who risk being forced to stop by the 30 June deadline, this according to Joel Bolano, technical division chief of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board.

“Kung hindi nag (If they do not) consolidate, the franchise will not be extended and definitely they cannot operate,” he said at a press briefing, noting that the deadline was extended several times.

A couple of major issues remain. First, the transition to more energy efficient and less polluting vehicles costs twice as much as traditional jeepneys and are out of reach for many owners or groups of owners. Secondly, users need an alternative transit system that is both cheap and extensive.

At present, the authorities seem unwilling to back down and have confirmed that they have alternative measures under consideration if their directives are not followed.