Transport group fears gov't using COVID-19 crisis to replace traditional jeepneys

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 23) — Prioritizing modern jeepneys to ply certain routes could be the government's way of gradually phasing out traditional jeepneys on the road, a transport group claimed Tuesday.

Zenaida Maranan, president of the Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines or FEJODAP, said drivers and operators of traditional jeepneys in some parts of Metro Manila were recently told to permanently halt operations amid eased quarantine rules.

"Kami ay pumapayag naman at nakikipagcoordinate sa modernization program na ito, ngunit ang nararamdaman namin ngayon ay ginamit ang pandemic, ang crisis na nangyari sa atin, para kami ay tanggalin na talaga. Dahil marami sa nakikipagugnayan sa kanila (gobyerno) ay sinabi sa amin na kami ay tatanggalin na nila," she said in an interview with CNN Philippines' New Day.

[Translation: We agreed to the plan and are coordinating with the modernization program, but we feel that the government is using the pandemic, the crisis to phase us out for good. Because many of those who coordinated with the DOTr told us that we will be removed.]

The Department of Transportation has implemented a hierarchy of transport, according to their capacity and ability to enforce social distancing among passengers. The first phase from June 1 to June 21 has given a go-signal to trains, buses, taxis, and transport network vehicles, while the second phase has allowed city buses and modern jeepneys back on the road starting June 22.

The DOTr previously noted that traditional jeepneys, along with UV Express units, are the last in priority, but will operate again in metro Manila before June ends.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque also said Tuesday that using modern public utility vehicles would be the safest option for commuters for now.

"Ang nangyari naman po talaga eh pinagbawal natin ang mass transport at unti-unti po natin itong ibabalik. Ang desisyon po ay makakabuti po na ipatupad ang modernization ng PUVs ngayon," he said in a virtual briefing with reporters.

[Translation: What really happened was we had to ban mass transport and gradually put them back. With this decision, it is better to implement the modernization of PUVs for now.]

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has been pushing for the modernization program for jeepneys, but this was strongly opposed by various transport groups, who claim that their means of income will be largely affected due to costly requirements and rules.

"Sinasabi nila obligatory pa rin kaming makipagconsolidate, ngunit hindi na prangkisa namin ang papatakbuhin nila, kundi ibang prangkisa na nila," Maranan said. "Magkakaroon ng agam-agam ang lahat kung sakaling ganoon ang gagawin ng LTFRB (Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board) na bigla na lang kaming isasadlak na di namin alam kung kikita kami o hindi, paano namin mababayaran ang modern jeep na babayaran namin kung saka sakali?"

[Translation: The government is saying it is obligatory for us to consolidate and we won't be able to run our own franchise, instead, it would be theirs. We are worried that if the LTFRB will do that, we do not have an assurance on whether we will actually earn, how can we pay for the modern jeeps?]

Maranan said traditional jeepneys are also ready to comply with health and safety protocols, through the use of barriers, thermal scanners and alcohol, and putting up collection baskets to collect fares from passengers. Seating capacity will also be reduced to 11, half of the units' original seating capacity.

Lawmakers earlier appealed to transport officials to listen to the pleas of jeepney operators to get back on the road, as some of them have managed to come up with innovations in order to earn a living.