Compared to its neighboring countries like Malaysia and Singapore, the Philippines has long been left behind when it comes to modernization of the mass transport system. Commuting nowadays remains a struggle for many Filipinos, not only because of the awful traffic but also because of its potential threats to passengers’ health and safety.

With the aim of making the country’s public transportation system efficient and environmentally friendly, the government launched the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP). This is pursuant to Department of Transportation’s (DoTr) Department Order No. 2017-011, the Omnibus Guidelines on the Planning and Identification of Public Road Transportation Services and Franchise Issuance.

PUVMP is a flagship program of the Duterte administration which envisions a restructured, modern, well-managed, and environmentally sustainable transport sector, ensuring drivers and operators have stable, sufficient and dignified livelihoods while commuters get to their destinations quickly, safely and comfortably.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) says on its Web site that the PUVMP is not only a vehicle modernization program, it is a comprehensive system reform that will entirely change the public land transportation industry.

“It features a regulatory reform and sets new guidelines for the issuance of franchise for road based public transport services. It devolved the function of route planning to the local government units as they are more versed in the terrain and passenger demand within their respective territorial jurisdiction,” the LTFRB says.

The DoTr and LTFRB, together with the Land Transportation Office, Office of Transport Cooperatives and other concerned agencies, are responsible in conducting a pilot implementation in order to review and assess whether the new policies are responsive and efficient in achieving the program’s intended outcomes.

Under the PUVMP, the local government units are required to submit their own Local Public Transport Plan (LPTRP) as a prerequisite for the opening of public utility vehicle (PUV) franchises within their jurisdiction.

To determine the appropriate mode, quantity and service characteristics of the public transport service in each corridor, route rationalization studies will be conducted. This will make the routes more responsive to the demand of the passengers and ensure that the hierarchy of roads and modes of transportation are followed.

Fleet modernization is among the major components of the PUVMP. New vehicle standards are being developed that is based on extensive consultations with concerned involved government agencies, jeepney associations and local and international manufacturers.  The modern vehicles are designed to be environment-friendly, safe, secure and convenient with due consideration to persons-with-disabilities passengers.

Last April, the DoTr held the Public Transport Modernization Expo: Modernong Sasakyan, Progresibong Bayan to showcase the modern vehicles and inform the public, especially the operators and drivers, of the PUVMP’s benefits.

Despite various advantages that the modernization program brings, it was received negatively by several transport groups, saying the program is “anti-poor.” The cost of modern jeepneys — which about P1.2 million to P1.6 million — and the plan to replace all PUVs aged 15 years or older have caused outrage to many drivers and small operators.

Amid all the criticisms, DoTr Secretary Arthur P. Tugade clarified that the program is not designed to eventually put PUVs out of business. He stressed that the PUVMP will help improve and strengthen the public road transport sector.

Nililiwanag ko lang ho na ‘yung programang modernization of public utility is not anti-poor; it is not designed to phase out the jeepneys or the jeepney business. It is actually designed to strengthen and guarantee the profitability of the jeepney business,” Mr. Tugade said.

In a separate statement, the DoTr also explained that the program is long overdue.

“Past administrations have long wanted to modernize transportation, but every time people wave flags saying that the program is anti-poor, we take a step back,” the agency said, adding that: “If not now, then when? Remember that the same issues raised now hindered the modernization program before. We will never be ready if we keep on looking for reasons to delay the project.”

The DoTr assured that the modernization program will happen, noting that drivers and operators have only two options: cooperate and benefit from this program, or oppose and get left behind.

Considering the clamor of drivers and operators who will be affected by the PUVMP, a special loan program with Landbank and Development Bank of the Philippines is being proposed which will provide access to adequate funding.

In addition, drivers will be given access to various trainings and social support programs which will be offered to enable them to be competent, self-sufficient and well-equipped with the necessary technical knowledge and skills.

Meanwhile, the DoTr rolled out around 200 modern utility jeepney units to operators with franchises validated by LTFRB last July.

In the same month, two transport cooperatives launched their PUV Modernization Program-compliant jeepneys to ply new routes along Taguig and Pateros. The Taguig Transport Service Coop PUVs are plying the Bagumbayan (Taguig) to Pasig route via San Joaquin, while the Pateros-Fort Boni Transport Coop PUVs’ route is from Gate 3 of Fort Bonifacio to Guadalupe Market.

Last June, 15 out of 35 modern public utility jeepney units of the Senate Employees Transport Service Cooperative were rolled out and started to ply the route of Star City or CCP to PICC, GSIS or Senate to MOA to PITX and back.

The PUVMP was first launched in Tacloban City, Leyte in January with the deployment of 45 solar-powered jeepneys. — Mark Louis F. Ferrolino