Goodbye, jeepneys

Temporarily shelved because of the pandemic, the public transportation overhaul is expected to resume with the easing of restrictions on mobility anytime soon, and like a Damocles sword, appears like the biggest threat to the survival of the traditional jeepney.

Under the PUV Modernization Program, public transportation vehicles will be upgraded to safe, efficient, and environment-friendly transport as envisioned by former Transportation Secretary Arturo Tugade.

The program calls for the replacement of old, dilapidated jeepneys with safer, more comfortable, and more environmentally friendly units, which, of course, various transportation groups have opposed.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, got in the way, throwing the whole program in limbo while leaving thousands of jeepney drivers without any source of income. Then, there was the Russian invasion of Ukraine that sent oil prices to the roof and dislocated thousands more.

Transport groups are claiming the cost of new jeepneys will adversely affect the livelihood of 600,000 jeepney drivers and 300,000 small operators.

Before the pandemic struck, the first batch of electric jeepneys began plying over 300 routes nationwide and are now widely deployed in Metro Manila and several provinces, relegating conventional jeepneys to the sidelines.

While some commiserated with the plight of the former King of the Road, a lot more, however, were just too glad that the days of arrogant, uncouth drivers who zoom in and out of lanes with their old, dilapidated vehicles are supposedly numbered.

Although it reaches places where there is often no alternative, jeepneys, with their diesel-fed engines, contribute to pollution and crippling congestion in cities across the country. And while they are a visual feast with colorful decorations, the vehicles are also notoriously challenging to board — especially for those with mobility difficulties.

With a design not suited for a social distancing protocol, the traditional jeepney has been relegated to the sidelines, the last in the hierarchy of public transport that has been allowed to resume operations.

The introduction of formal ticketing and drop-off points pose further challenges to the conventions of jeepney rides — currently, riders tap the ceiling to stop the vehicle, while fares passed up a line of passengers to the driver.

In addition to a design overhaul, changes are also expected to routes and franchising in the coming years. Transport officials remain confident that reform will ultimately benefit everyone in the industry.

Amid promises of new subways, bus lines and rail systems, the jeepney surely can still play a part in the country’s transport by offering feeder routes or “last mile” services.

This attempt of rationalizing the country’s transport system will pay us back with less pollution, lesser traffic, and a more convenient way of getting to our destinations.

Three years ago, when the government first broached the idea of modernization, the same group of recalcitrants staged a transport strike that highlighted the challenges to modernizing an already antiquated mode of public transportation.

Despite the resistance, however, the development of e-jeepneys and e-trikes went on in anticipation of the day when everything will fall into place.

It took a pandemic of lethal proportions to fast track and pave the way for such. Quarantine restrictions that sidelined the erstwhile King of the Road provided the opportunity.

In our book, anything that is an improvement of the old, sputtering jeepney, is far better than being stuck with time.

Never mind that we are replacing an icon that has been with us for ages.

The traditional jeepney has seen better days. It may be considered a symbol of Filipino ingenuity, but it only has given us more problems than solutions. It has to go.

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