By Brian James Lu

Navigating the landscape of jeepney modernization

On Dec. 31, 2023, the provisional authorities that allow individual operators to ply the traditional jeepneys expired. However, this was extended for another month, or until Jan. 31, 2024. This is the second extension when the same expired on June 30, 2023. With the one-month extension, we can expect that traditional jeepneys will no longer ply our roads. Unless, of course, the government extends again the deadline for jeepney drivers and operators to consolidate.

This is the government’s program to modernize public utility vehicles, particularly the traditional jeepneys. Dubbed the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), it was mandated by the Duterte government in 2017 through the Department of Transportation’s (DOTr) Department Order No. 2017-011. The department order’s Omnibus Franchising Guidelines mandates that only corporations or cooperatives with at least 15 vehicles can apply for new franchises. It means that single operators and drivers, including those with jeepney fleets, should come together as a single legal entity by forming a corporation or a cooperative.

The aim of the jeepney modernization program is to replace traditional jeepneys with safer, more efficient, and eco-friendly vehicles. Let us admit that many traditional jeepneys are smoke belchers, others are already decrepit and not roadworthy and are often the causes of accidents. According to Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista, jeepney modernization will strengthen the CASA (convenient, accessible, safe and secure, and affordable) program in the transport sector. More jobs will be also generated, such as mechanics, dispatchers, and administrative staff, among others.

It’s about time the government pushes through with jeepney modernization. However, this should not be at the expense of the drivers whose main source of income is driving a traditional jeepney and the commuters who prefer a cheap fare.

Since the start of the modernization program in 2017, we can see “modern jeepneys” that are not actually jeepneys. These are mini-buses or coasters that are usually from China. As to how these became a representative of Philippine jeepneys is anybody’s guess but these are far from what a jeepney is. The traditional jeepneys are also an embodiment of our culture. They have served as the primary mode of transportation all over the country, transporting goods and people. I remember that we used to call the jeepneys the “King of the Road.” Some jeepneys are adorned with various decorations representing ethnic, regional places, or current pop culture.

During a Senate hearing last year, I was surprised to hear that modern jeepneys cost from PHP2.4 million to PHP2.8 million. I’m not sure how a cooperative can afford these, but they need to take out a loan from the Landbank or the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP). Loan amortizations are payable in seven years with 6 percent interest.

At the close of 2023, Francisco Motors, one of the jeepney manufacturers in the country, unveiled its version of a modern jeepney. It is a fully electric and modern jeepney dubbed as “Francisco Jeepney” and retains all the look of the traditional jeepney. What surprises everybody is its price: PHP985,000 each for the first 1,000 units. This is a far cry from the current price of “modern jeepneys” plying our roads. I agree with the owner of Francisco Motors when he said in an interview that replacing the iconic-designed jeepneys with mini-buses from other countries is like removing a piece of our identity.

There have been protests from the ranks of the jeepney sector opposing jeepney modernization. This is expected considering that jeepney drivers tend to work alone compared to the desire of the government to systematize the plying of routes and to remove the boundary system to benefit the riding public. Unfortunately, these issues are some of the reasons for the jeepney modernization program. For one, most franchises are for single jeepney operator, hence, the difficulty in monitoring and regulating their use. Second, the boundary system compels competition among the drivers by making them wait for more passengers, thus, affecting travel time to the consternation of the riding public.

Since the traditional jeepneys can no longer be registered with the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and no franchise from the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) after the deadline, the question is what are to be done with these? I presume the jeepneys shall be considered scrap and junk and we have hundreds of thousands of jeepneys. Columnist Jarius Bondoc proposed that junk old jeepneys can be dismantled for recycling. The metal scraps can be melted and shaped into other machine parts, steel bars, or tools. But to do these to all the jeepneys in the Philippines would be a herculean task.

I dread the day when phased-out jeepneys will clog our streets since most of the operators do not have a garage. Worse, they may just get impounded by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), further compounding the already bursting impounding areas.

Filipinos do not usually part with their possessions. In fact, there are a lot of old cars, jeepneys, bikes, and various sorts of fabricated metals that are left on the streets. I think the problem is that we don’t have enough smelting plants in the country that can recycle metal junk.

Aside from its jeepney modernization program, the government should also plan on how to recycle old jeepneys to mitigate the problem arising from their decommissioning. Perhaps metal smelting plants can be established in strategic provinces. With this, I believe the country will boost its metal and steel industries and we may minimize the importation of steel bars for construction and other uses.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.


About the Columnist

Image of Brian James Lu

BRIAN JAMES J. LU, MMgt, is an entrepreneur, business adviser, government consultant, and is deeply involve in civil society organizations. He advocates good governance, ethical business practices, and social responsibilities. He is the President of the National Economic Protectionism Association (NEPA) and Chairman of the Foundation for National Development (Fonad). His broad experiences in the private and public sectors give him a unique perspective to advance his advocacies.