Current PUV modernization program not the answer – think tanks

MANILA, Philippines – According to think tanks, the current version of the public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization program is not the answer to the country's current transportation problem.

During a House briefing on Thursday, October 19, IBON Foundation and AGHAM - Advocates for Science and Technology for the People said the program does not address the "lack of public mass transport system."

"The goal is for a publicly owned (transport system for) the welfare of the riding public. Finally, we propose that there should be a comprehensive public transport plan for individual vehicle type," Glenis Balangue, IBON Foundation's senior researcher said.

The House committee on transportation called for the meeting with transport officials after a two-day strike by jeepney operators and drivers over the government's plan to replace jeepneys that are older than 15 years. (WATCH: Abala ba ang transport strike?)

The think tanks said the government should not pass the burden of buying new and "expensive" jeepney models if the goal is to promote affordable, safe, and up-to-standard transport system.

Instead of giving the funds from the Comprehensive Automotive Resurgence Strategy program to foreign car manufacturers, IBON Foundation said it can be used to subsidize the cost of jeepneys through cooperatives. 

In their position papers submitted to the committee, the think tanks suggested a "Palit Jeepney" program which focuses on evaluating the roadworthiness of public utility jeepneys (PUJ).

"Evaluation for roadworthiness should be done at a per-unit basis instead of a fixed standard (of) 'older than 15 years' which now stands," Agham said. 

IBON Fondation suggested that the program can start by "auditing all registered PUJs which could still be rehabilitated" and should be complemented by an assured regular maintenance program at "no or minimal cost to the cooperative."

"In addition, the government should establish a partnership with driver and small operator cooperatives by limiting franchises to genuine (operating) cooperatives or associations. This way, the jeepneys can be modernized in a way that respects the small drivers and operator's right to work," the think tank said.

Transport group Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston) said  the PUV modernization plan would lead to a loss of jobs and asked the government to junk the program.

The current version was "pro-big business" and anti-poor, as the new jeepney models cost around P1.5 million each – which was too much for small drivers and operators, Piston said.

Many questions still hound the modernization plan. On Thursday, transportation officials revealed that they are yet to map out a timeline for how the modernization program will be rolled out. –

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.