public transportation

Jeepney drivers offer free rides in Negros Occidental despite phaseout fears

Reymund Titong

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Jeepney drivers offer free rides in Negros Occidental despite phaseout fears

FREE RIDE. A jeepney driver offers a free ride to Bacolodnon commuters as a form of Christmas gift ahead of the December 31 jeepney consolidation plan.

Nichollen Fhaye de Vera

The free rides in Bacolod City come despite looming threats posed by a pricey modernization program on the jeepney drivers' livelihood

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – Some drivers of traditional public utility vehicles (PUVs) plying here for decades offered free rides amid fears of losing their livelihood due to the government’s December 31 deadline to comply with a pricey modernization plan. 

Students like Nichollen Fhaye de Vera, a psychology major in Bacolod, were among those who got to avail of these rides. She said the jeepney driver even told her it was a form of Christmas gift for commuters like her.

“On December 27, at around 10 in the morning, I rode a jeepney parked near a bank. I was the first passenger to board, and as soon as I sat in the front seat, the driver said, ‘It’s nice that you got on because this is free.‘ He subsequently invited other passengers to come aboard as well,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.

De Vera was unable to ask for the driver’s name, but she felt the weight of sadness and fear as these drivers could lose their source of income.

The deadline for individual traditional jeepney operators to join a cooperative or corporation is December 31, 2023; failure to do so would result in losing their operating license.

At least a hundred people benefited from the free trips on Wednesday, December 27, which was organized by five small-time jeepney drivers.

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Last December 22, the United Negros Drivers and Operators Center (UNDOC)-Piston and Bacolod Alliance of Commuters, Operators, and Drivers (BACOD)-Manibela staged a protest march to denounce what they deemed as a phaseout of PUVs in the country.

“We, drivers and small-time operators, emphasize that our opposition to the franchise consolidation and modernization program does not signify our resistance to progress. To genuinely enhance public transport, the government should subsidize our acquisition of modern units and involve us throughout the decision-making processes,” a joint statement read.

One of the major concerns of the small-time jeepney owners and drivers is the high cost of modernized jeepneys, estimated to be 1,766.7% more expensive than the traditional ones.

The traditional jeepney costs between P150,000 and P250,000, while the modern one can reach as high as P2.8 million, which puts further strain on the finances of small-time drivers and operators. 

The government, however, pledged to subsidize a mere 5.7% of the project’s overall cost, or only P160,000.

The Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) said air pollution reduction efforts are negligible if modernization efforts are focused on jeepneys instead of private vehicles.

According to data from the Department of Energy and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, they recorded over 9 million registered vehicles in the country. Of the number, 250,000 or just 2% are jeepneys.

“Not to mention, private car owners would also be more likely financially capable of modernizing their vehicles,” the CEED said.

Students’ voice

The Technopacer-Talisay, the official student organ of the Carlos Hilado Memorial State University, expressed support for jeepney drivers in their call to junk the PUV Modernization Program, which they described as anti-driver and anti-people.

The group said the December 31 phaseout plan of the government for the traditional jeepneys across the country poses a challenge to at least 25.8 million commuters nationwide, directly affecting students and low-income earners who rely on the affordability and accessibility of jeepneys for their daily transport.

While they agree that there is a need to modernize the country’s transport system, they emphasized that the government should not spark social injustice and economic struggle for the marginalized.

“We urge the authorities to engage in meaningful dialogue with jeepney drivers, operators, and the commuting public to find a sustainable solution that balances modernization with social responsibility. We stand in solidarity with the drivers, operators, and commuters, whose lives will be impacted, advocating for policies that protect their rights and welfare,” the statement read. – Rappler.com

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