Last week’s nationwide transport strike highlighted, once again, that old question about what determines a vehicle’s capacity to transport people and goods safely. Is it all down to how old it is? Or is it about whether the steering wheel or the accelerator or the spark plugs still work fine?
The protest by transport group PISTON is in response to plans by the government to modernize public utility vehicles. The Department of Transportation says its plans will mean jeepneys and buses will be more responsive to the needs of the communities they serve. They say it’s also a good thing for operators, who can now offer newer, more comfortable vehicles, as well as drivers, who will now receive a salary and receive adequate training.
However, PISTON fears that the proposals would be detrimental to the drivers. They characterize the plans as a phase-out of the jeepney as we know it today, as it calls for the banning of vehicles that are 16 years or older from plying our roads. The group claims drivers will lose their means of living.
This is, of course, a tricky question. What makes a jeepney worthy of being on the road? Truckers have long faced this question, with similar proposals calling for trucks over 15 years of age to be taken off the roads. Truckers contend that roadworthiness should be the criterion, adding that acquiring brand new vehicles are expensive, and parts for those are hard to find, too. The fear is that any such move would dramatically decrease the number of trucks serving major trade routes, affecting not just drivers but also consumers, whose access to products will shrink drastically.
But then, truckers here are not mom-and-pop operations. Economies of scale means that for one to be able to mount a viable trucking operation, whether as part of a company’s own fleet or as a third party provider, there has to be enough number of trucks. It will be expensive to upgrade a fleet of second-hand trucks to a fleet of brand new ones, but at least the numbers are on their side. For jeepney drivers, the vehicle they use to earn a living is the only one they have—and it’s harder to replace it these days, especially with jeepney manufacturers shuttering their doors. One can argue there are now multicabs to serve the same purpose, but these have smaller capacities.
Perhaps roadworthiness is a better criterion. For one, Filipino ingenuity is something that’s been proven again and again—“magagawan ng paraan,” as we put it. But what exactly makes a vehicle roadworthy? Which parameters should we follow? Is it the number of kilometers on the odometer? Should a vehicle’s repair history be made public? To bolster the case for roadworthiness over age, perhaps there should be more data, agreed on by all concerned stakeholders.
That said, the DOTr’s PUV modernization program is something we should support. If done right this could go a long way in restoring the commuter’s trust in public transport options. But perhaps we should not just look at the operators and drivers themselves. Sure, they do carry a big chunk of the burden. Negligent operators have deployed unreliable vehicles for a quick buck, and drivers have been reckless just to earn their boundary, and then some. (“Nawalan ng preno” can mean so many things.) But we have to look at the system that has fostered and encouraged this behavior. Why can buses and jeepneys load and unload passengers wherever they please? Why can taxis get away with not giving exact change or not even having their meters turned on? Modernization can also involve concepts such as better route planning, stops for buses and jeepneys—essentially, a national transport policy, which can’t come any sooner.
As for trucks, if we really have to have brand new ones, why not provide subsidies? One, after all, can make the case for these trucks being important to the country’s economy: the subsidies are just a bet on the country’s growth. But then, truckers will say that new trucks don’t make sense if they’ll just be stuck in gridlock.
Simply said, there are no easy solutions, and all stakeholders have to come together and talk—with the view of solving problems, rather than sticking to the status quo.
Supply Chain Immersion: This year’s Supply Chain Immersion is going to Iloilo City, the economic center of Western Visayas which is seeing both a business and property boom. We will take off from Manila via sea on May 12, arriving in the city the following day, and return to Manila via plane on May 14. We promise a more immersive, substantial agenda looking not just at supply chain challenges but also opportunities in one of the country’s major logistics hubs. We’ll have more details soon, so do check our website, www.scmap.org, in the coming weeks.
Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications executive of SCMAP. A former board director, he is also editor-in-chief of the organization’s official publication, Supply Chain Philippines.