Filipinos are increasingly worried that a planned phase-out of older Jeepneys could disrupt public transport and bring excessive financial burdens for operators.
As per the proposal of the Philippine transport department in its urban traffic modernisation plan, Jeepneys older than 15 years should be taken from the streets and replaced with new, electrically powered Jeepneys or similar vehicles with low-emission Euro 4 engines. The plan includes requiring operators to have at least ten Jeepneys and a minimum capital of 7 million pesos ($140,000) to keep their franchises.
Jeepney operators and drivers promptly staged a protest rally in end-February, arguing that such a phaseout would affect 650,000 drivers and 250,000 operators immediately since an estimated 90 per cent of Jeepneys in operation are older than 15 years.
The land department countered that the Jeepney, while symbolising Filipino culture, has become associated with inefficient and unsustainable mass transportation particularly in Metro Manila and other urban areas in the country. Jeepneys are among the biggest sources of carbon emissions in the Philippines. Their drivers are also notoriously resistant to any effort to impose road discipline, picking up and unloading passengers even in the middle of busy thoroughfares and turning stops into virtual terminals.
But most operators say that for them it is economically unfeasible to renew their fleet in a short timeframe. One new electric Jeepney costs between $17,900 to $29,800, depending on size, and Euro 4 engine jeepneys cost even over $30,000. Drivers and operators rely on the number of passengers per day, and on good days, drivers earn more or less the same amount as the current minimum wage of 481 pesos ($9.50), on bad days, a driver can go home with just enough to buy rice for the night.
A phase out would not only leave a lot of them unemployed, it would also effect the many small businesses whose trades revolve around the unique automobile design and production of the Jeepney. Moreover, millions of disenfranchised commuters will have to bite the bullet as the most accessible and common form of public transportation gets rarer.
However, the transport department is not backing down and will stick to its plan, although it might give operators a bit more time.
“The plan will not happen overnight, it has a three-year transition period with different steps”, says transportation department official Aileen Lizada.
“Next year, we will formulate incentives for operators and 2018 until 2020 will be the transition period,” she adds.
In the meantime, the department would focus on retiring and replacing old public utility vehicles and aged public buses.