I remember back in the ‘80s when jeepney strikes were aplenty, the disruption caused by striking drivers was quite severe. They would really stop non-participants from plying their routes. Sometimes violently at that.
Back then, transport strikes were a big thing, and matched with the socio-political upheaval of the era, it was a sure way of getting a sore point across. Even violently at times.
Transport strikes have waned in popularity in the last two decades, however. As more and more transport strikes have turned into anti-capitalist rants. The regular jeepney driver, at least most of them, have opted to keep on working instead.
To many PUJ and PUV drivers, a day spent not on the road is lost income that would have fed their families for a day or two.
The transport strike that was supposed to paralyze mobility among commuters fizzled out on Monday, hardly making the impact the organizers wanted. If not for the overeager press, they would not have been heard.
And while many commuters still had to struggle and find a way to get to work and back to their homes, it would seem that they could care less about the plight of jeepney drivers as they called for the suspension of the jeepney phaseout.
Does that mean though that they have no case to begin with? Well, not quite.
The PUV Modernization Plan was envisioned to transform the quality of our public transport system. Had everything sailed smoothly, it was meant to provide commuters and public transport operators a “more dignified, humane, and on par with global standards” experience.
We’ve often heard the previous Department of Transportation Secretary, Art Tugade, upon whose shoulders this program initially laid, how it would give Filipinos a safer, more efficient, reliable, convenient, affordable, climate-friendly, and environmentally sustainable transportation system.
Heavy words that are not exactly without bearing.
You see, over the last five or so decades, jeepneys have become anything but the above. Even as some of them have turned into rolling pieces of art and personal expression – complete with custom paint jobs, booming sound systems, flashy lights, and the occasional laughing horn, jeepneys have remained for the most part decrepit, dingy, noisy, uncomfortable and pollution-emitting relics.
How many of us have experienced riding in a jeepney that needed two to three extra pumps of the brake pedal just to stop?
When was the last time you sat inside a jeepney in comfort, under full capacity, without sitting on one butt-cheek just because the jeepney was supposed to fit 20 people to maximize a trip?
Why is it that many jeepneys on the road have continued to rot away with rust at their seams, and oily grime on almost anything you touch, and yet still be allowed on the road?
And the most glaring impact of outdated jeepneys is the smoke and soot that their surplus diesel engines continue to emit. And that despite the fact that the Clean Air Act has been in place since 1999. Is it any coincidence that buildings and structures along jeepney routes are some of the dirtiest in the country?
And we haven’t even mentioned the carelessness many of these jeepney drivers seem to have when driving along their routes, picking up passengers, and outjockeying each other while violating almost every known road rule just to get more passengers onboard.
It is clear that jeepneys, and PUVs for that matter have to be upgraded to today’s driving, safety, and environmental standards at the very least. And yet we have groups crying out and twisting the commuters’ and government’s arm into submitting to their old thinking.
Yes, upgrading will cost the poor jeepney driver an arm and a leg. But the program has been built with provisions that allow for route consolidation, cooperative formation, and humane benefits for drivers like a fixed salary, SSS, and the abolition of the boundary system. The latter said to be one of the main causes why jeepney drivers drive the way they do.
With Monday’s feeble attempt to paralyze the country’s transportation, isn’t it clear enough to the instigators and organizers of this exercise that the commuting public do not support their cause?
That we prefer to ride in air conditioned mini buses that provide us enough headroom to stand upright when entering the vehicle.
That we want to sit in comfort during our whole journey, safe and secure from pickpockets who would yank our watches and necklaces just because they are in plain sight.
That we want to experience the dignity of riding in a well-kept and properly maintained vehicle every day, instead of risking our health just because a stubborn minority prefers to be stuck in the past and to relish the romantic rags to riches story that the jeepney has afforded them.
It is now 2023. The PUV Modernization Program has been an on-again and off-again scheme which vote-hungry politicians can easily ride on to ensure their stay in power. But isn’t it high-time that we move on from the anti-poor excuse and accept that things can be better, and should be better for everyone? Can we — government, PUV groups, commuters, just let go of our selfish interests and start working together and find a solution to all of this drama?
I yearn for the day my son can ride public transportation in peace and comfort. I just hope that he will afford that in his lifetime.