WATCH | CHANGE IS COMING: Tugade, transport leaders in face-off on PUV modernization

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MANILA – Transportation Secretary Art Tugade on Monday (Dec. 11) finally faced a Senate inquiry on PUV modernization, parrying allegations from transport leaders that no proper consultations were held on the ambitious program seen as the death-knell for the iconic jeepneys – the face of road transportation since after the last world war.

The jeepneys have been blamed for, among others, pollution, road accidents and traffic congestion, but most of the transport leaders invited to Monday’s hearing had a similar message to Tugade et al: they are pro-modernization, but against replacing the jeepneys.

Tugade told Public Service committee chair Sen. Grace Poe that he had been in constant dialogue with transport leaders, in an effort to dispute allegations by, among others George San Mateo – of the PISTON group that had led transport strikes against the PUV program – that the government had proceeded to issue, without their inputs, the omnibus franchising guidelines as part of the modernization.

DOTR Assistant Secretary Mark de Leon gave Poe’s committee a rundown of the basic statistics that officials said make it imperative to replace old, polluting and unsafe public utility vehicles on the road:

• 90 percent of the 179,000 LTFRB-listed jeepneys are aged 15 years and older;
• 65 percent of carbon emissions are attributed to PUVs;
• the economic losses due to traffic congestion have been raised from the previous estimate of P2.7 billion daily to P4.1 billion, based on studies of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

De Leon said the Duterte administration’s modernization hearing is different from previous efforts because it is “inclusive and comprehensive,” with key components including: institutional reform, the mobilizing of local government units in developing local franchising guidelines, route rationalization, fleet modernization, industry consultations and the financing of the PUV modernization

KILLING JEEPNEYS

Most of the transportation leaders – including those who parted ways with San Mateo’s PISTON over whether to hold transport strikes as a protest against the program – professed support for the PUV modernization per se, but “no to jeepney phaseout.”

Zeny Maranan of FEJODAP said her group agreed with PUV modernization, not because she wanted to kowtow to government – which she has fought in the past, she noted – but “because of climate change.” She said the proponents had given enough basis for proving that the old jeepneys with decrepit, outdated engines contributed much to pollution and she knew enough of how climate change can also hurt the poor.

She called out fellow transport leaders who had earlier scoffed at the existing motor vehicle inspection system (MVIS), which they said was not really working because the certification required for vehicle registration can be paid for. Maranan reminded them to be thankful for the years they had still been able to keep their livelihood despite the wanton emission violations, and to support change that is needed for everyone’s welfare.

DEAL BREAKER: FINANCING COST

San Mateo, out on bail after being ordered arrested last week on a case filed against him by the LTFRB, said the modernization would surely kill the jeepney drivers’ livelihood, because the program was so designed as to make the existing jeepney models fail the standards, and only those vehicles made by big manufacturers to pass.

His group’s basic disagreement was the financing scheme that he said would surely not be affordable to the small operators and drivers.

PISTON leader George San Mateo and his colleagues in the transport sector deliver their message to the Poe committee. BERNARD TESTA, INTERAKSYON

Poe asked officials of the DOTr, as well as the Department of Trade and Industry and Board of Investments which had been talking to potential manufacturers of the modern PUVs, if the initial plans and estimates complained against were rigid. The officials assured her they were not, and would be refined as more suggestions are raised in continuing dialogues.

The senator had earlier confronted officials with what she described as difficult financing schemes for those participating in the program: an average daily repayment of P800 for a 7-year loan of P2.2 million. This would, in addition to the costs of maintenance and diesel, make it hard to keep up with the financing schedule.

Besides this, the franchise for the new PUVs would lapse after seven years, which is just about the time the operator or driver would be done repaying the loan. “Ngayon pa lang bumabawi, tapos, wala na siyang franchise [That would be the only time they can start getting some relief, but then that’s the time their franchise runs out]?” To which LTFRB chairman Martin Melgra III explained that LTFRB normally issues franchises good for five years, and had even extended the franchise shelf life for this program to 7 years. He assured the senator the franchises may be easily renewed for as long as the vehicles comply with the guidelines.

POE: PILOT-TEST PLAN FIRST

Poe recommended that the government firstconduct a pilot test in the light of sketchy details and purported lack of consultations with transport groups.

Gusto ko sana magkaroon na muna ng mga pilot projects. Hindi pwedeng sabay-sabay, lahat ng areas. Kung compliance sa safety, road worthiness at saka emissions, pwede munang yun ang unahin tapos yung iba naman, like side door accessibility, persons with disabilities [I’d like to first see pilot projects. It can’t be simultaneous in all areas. Matters like compliance with safety, road worthiness and emission standards can go first; the others like side door accessibility and PWD features can then maybe follow],” Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public services, told reporters on the sidelines of the hearing.

Transport groups backed the proposed modernization, but lamented an alleged lack of consultations, particularly on the issuance in June of Department Order No. 2017-011 or the omnibus franchise guidelines. That policy contained a set of standards for franchise issuance such as door location on the curbside door and not the rear door for boarding and alighting, access for persons with disability, and jeepneys must be below seven meters in length. Jeepneys must also be able to pass the emission standards.

“Yung mga pwede pang tumakbo dahil maayos pa naman, i-allow. For sure marami nang kailangang palitan, yun ang dapat na maging—iyong prototype na nila. Linawin rin sana sino ang suppliers kasi bagama’t yung mga engine Euro4, pero kung ang magtatagpi-tagpi ng sasakyan rin, mga chop-chop naman, baka delikado. Pangalawa, kung kukuha naman tayo ng mga accredited na kumpanya, siguraduhin nating walang kumpare system dito na ang ma-aaccredit nila ay mga kumpanyang talagang merong kredibilidad at kakayahang gawin yun,” Poe added.

[Jeepneys that can still run and are road-worthy should be allowed. For sure many would need replacing, and for these they should offer the prototypes. They should also make clear who are the suppliers, because even if the engines are Euro4-compliant, if the vehicles are chop-chop, that might not be safe. Second, if we’re tapping accredited companies, let’s make sure there’s no kumpare system and only the companies with credibility and capability will be accredited].

Poe, meanwhile, raised the question of whether jeepney drivers and operators can afford millions in loans for new jeepneys. She appealed to Transport officials to reconsider the “high unit cost and burdensome financing terms” to be extended to jeepney driver-operators.

“Come to think of it, if government is subsidizing trains run by rich companies to the tune of billions, then why should it allow jeepney drivers and operators to foot the bill for new units almost all by themselves?” said Poe.

Poe also said if the government can provide a flurry of incentives to the private sector under the public-private partnership (PPP) scheme, then all the more it is well within its means to provide more funding support to jeepney driver-operators.