Death of a Philippine Icon?

Beginning January 2018, the Philippine government will start overhauling the country’s public transport networks under its much ballyhooed ‘public utility vehicle modernization program.’ With the full support of President Rodrigo Duterte, the program promises to update the local public transport system with safer and more environmentally friendly public utility vehicles (PUVs).

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is the government arm tasked with the impounding of jeepneys that are at least 15 years old from the streets. DOTr Undersecretary Tim Orbos said that they have a three-year time frame for the complete removal of old jeepneys in the coutry. He said the DOTr will determine the age and roadworthiness of a jeepney with the soon-to-be-launched Motor Vehicle Inspection System (MVIS).

The government estimates the country to have around 200,000 jeepneys plying the Philippine roads, where they have long been a staple since World War II, when locals started converting US jeeps left by the American army for use as public transport. As demand rose, one by one, local jeepney manufacturers entered the fray, producing not only jeepneys with varying sizes, but with a whole kaleidoscope of colors and designs as well. Soon enough, the Philippine jeepney became an icon of Filipino craftsmanship and ingenuity.

Unfortunately, as the world moved forward, the Philippine jeepney remained stuck in the past. Doorless rear access, unglazed windows (for those that have them), uncomfortable benches, and non-existent safety features—not to mention old diesel engines—are just a few of the reasons the Philippine jeepney is grossly in need of some updating.

Under the government’s PUV modernization program, jeepneys 15 years and older will be replaced by public transport with Euro-4 compliant or battery-powered engines. At the least, most of the jeepneys running to day are powered by Euro-2 compliant engines.

Jeepney owners and operators may also be required to equip their vehicles with GPS, WiFi, video/dashboard cameras, speed limiters, and other features that improve passenger comfort and safety.

Owners, operators, and coalitions alike have protested against the new regulations, with many airing out their dissatisfaction at having to borrow from the government so they can purchase new vehicles. The government is willing to subsidize and provide soft loans to operators, but the latter wants to increase fares to meet the costs.

The program, which was officially launched on June 19, is also being touted as a way to ease congestion in Metro Manila’s traffic-clogged streets.

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