POSTSCRIPT / April 2, 2002 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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We deserve something better & will pay for it

UNSIGHTLY JEEPNEYS: Without meaning to look down on our toiling jeepney drivers, we’ve always said that whatever economic progress we display at street level, we will never appear to have advanced as long as jeepneys clutter our thoroughfares.

We can display the modern trappings of the 21st Century, but as long as jeepneys (not to mention the grimy buses in various stages of falling apart) dominate the traffic scene in the metropolis, we will never be regarded by foreigners as having arrived.

We mention foreigners not because we exist for them. It’s just that their assessment of this nation’s state of well-being affects not only our balance of trade and the level of foreign investments, but also the way we Filipinos regard ourselves.

* * *

FIVE-YEAR PHASEOUT: It’s an old, recurring suggestion, but why don’t we banish the jeepney from the metropolis, at least from the thoroughfares, within an immediate time frame of not more than five years?

With the 2004 elections just around the bend, how can we do something as politically risky as this? That’s just the point. We never get things done, because politics always intrudes into the decision-making.

Having allowed the problem to fester, we now have to contend with the lobby of jeepney drivers and operators pressuring officials and sometimes threatening mayhem whenever there is a hint of a phaseout being considered.

But we submit that Filipinos deserve something better. We further submit that despite their economic difficulties, Filipinos are willing to pay for something better.

* * *

SAME CASE OF TAXICABS: On a parallel plane, remember when taxicabs were mostly 10-year-old automobiles diverted from the junk and converted into rolling coffins?

Whenever we took a cab, we would sit gingerly on the lumpy seat careful not to lean back lest we pick up grime and germs from the smelly cushions. We didn’t dare lean on the door not only because it would surely fly open, but also because we might get scratched and die of tetanus.

We would sit out the ride hardly breathing, to minimize inhaling the noxious dust and smoke gushing through the windows. There was no choice but to keep the windows open, because there was no air-conditioning.

At that time, only the bigger hotels had air-con sedans for ferrying guests and whoever were willing to pay the exorbitant fare.

* * *

AIRCON CABS A NOVELTY: Why not comparatively new air-conditioned taxicabs for the commuting public? It was a wild idea then, for how could air-con cabs charging higher rates compete with the regular cabs? Nobody had ventured into that field on a grand scale, and there were no reliable studies to go by.

But as we keep saying, Filipinos deserve something better and are willing to pay for it.

Some enterprising businessmen rolled out fleets of new sedans equipped with air-cons, two-way radios, digital meters and cleaner looking drivers — and the rest is, as they say, business history.

Filipino commuters have accepted the better-looking, better-maintained, air-con cabs despite the higher rates. Indeed, Filipinos are willing to pay for something better.

Now it does not pay to field the older taxis. In fact, to be competitive, a cab must not only be air-con, but must also look kind of new and the uniformed driver must look as harmless as a clean-cut Mormon peddling church literature.

Going back to operating rickety, but cheaper, cabs without aircon is now as futile as fishing in a murky estero.

* * *

ALTERNATIVE TO JEEPNEY: Back to the jeepney. It cannot be that there is no alternative to this colorful relic of the last war.

When the Tamaraw-type air-con “jeepneys” (given the ridiculous classification of “Megataxi”) descended on the scene more than a year ago, they immediately posed serious competition to the older jeepneys plying the beaten routes.

Jeepneys drivers (as well as taxi drivers) have been complaining that the so-called “megataxi” and the lightrail trains have been eating into their daily earnings. Naturally.

UNSIGHTLY JEEPNEYS: Without meaning to look down on our toiling jeepney drivers, we’ve always said that whatever economic progress we display at street level, we will never appear to have advanced as long as jeepneys clutter our thoroughfares.

We can display the modern trappings of the 21st Century, but as long as jeepneys (not to mention the grimy buses in various stages of falling apart) dominate the traffic scene in the metropolis, we will never be regarded by foreigners as having arrived.

We mention foreigners not because we exist for them. It’s just that their assessment of this nation’s state of well-being affects not only our balance of trade and the level of foreign investments, but also the way we Filipinos regard ourselves.

* * *

FIVE-YEAR PHASEOUT: It’s an old, recurring suggestion, but why don’t we banish the jeepney from the metropolis, at least from the thoroughfares, within an immediate time frame of not more than five years?

With the 2004 elections just around the bend, how can we do something as politically risky as this? That’s just the point. We never get things done, because politics always intrudes into the decision-making.

Having allowed the problem to fester, we now have to contend with the lobby of jeepney drivers and operators pressuring officials and sometimes threatening mayhem whenever there is a hint of a phaseout being considered.

But we submit that Filipinos deserve something better. We further submit that despite their economic difficulties, Filipinos are willing to pay for something better.

* * *

SAME CASE OF TAXICABS: On a parallel plane, remember when taxicabs were mostly 10-year-old automobiles diverted from the junk and converted into rolling coffins?

Whenever we took a cab, we would sit gingerly on the lumpy seat careful not to lean back lest we pick up grime and germs from the smelly cushions. We didn’t dare lean on the door not only because it would surely fly open, but also because we might get scratched and die of tetanus.

We would sit out the ride hardly breathing, to minimize inhaling the noxious dust and smoke gushing through the windows. There was no choice but to keep the windows open, because there was no air-conditioning.

At that time, only the bigger hotels had air-con sedans for ferrying guests and whoever were willing to pay the exorbitant fare.

* * *

AIRCON CABS A NOVELTY: Why not comparatively new air-conditioned taxicabs for the commuting public? It was a wild idea then, for how could air-con cabs charging higher rates compete with the regular cabs? Nobody had ventured into that field on a grand scale, and there were no reliable studies to go by.

But as we keep saying, Filipinos deserve something better and are willing to pay for it.

Some enterprising businessmen rolled out fleets of new sedans equipped with air-cons, two-way radios, digital meters and cleaner looking drivers — and the rest is, as they say, business history.

Filipino commuters have accepted the better-looking, better-maintained, air-con cabs despite the higher rates. Indeed, Filipinos are willing to pay for something better.

Now it does not pay to field the older taxis. In fact, to be competitive, a cab must not only be air-con, but must also look kind of new and the uniformed driver must look as harmless as a clean-cut Mormon peddling church literature.

Going back to operating rickety, but cheaper, cabs without aircon is now as futile as fishing in a murky estero.

* * *

ALTERNATIVE TO JEEPNEY: Back to the jeepney. It cannot be that there is no alternative to this colorful relic of the last war.

When the Tamaraw-type air-con “jeepneys” (given the ridiculous classification of “Megataxi”) descended on the scene more than a year ago, they immediately posed serious competition to the older jeepneys plying the beaten routes.

Jeepneys drivers (as well as taxi drivers) have been complaining that the so-called “megataxi” and the lightrail trains have been eating into their daily earnings. Naturally.

The reasons are obvious. While post-war Filipinos in urgent need of means of transportation had to accept the jeepney, present-day commuters deserve something better and are willing to pay for it.

The parameters for the operation of “megataxis” — a hybrid between the jeepneys and the taxicabs — have not been refined, but they give us a hint of what could be a viable alternative to the jeepney.

Whatever will be the alternatives found, they should be the type that would link us to the future and keep at least our urban centers in step with the rest of the progressive cities in the region.

* * *

PRIORITY TO JEEPNEY OPERATORS: We’re not saying that we simply ban jeepneys at the end of a five-year grace period. We’re talking of a phaseout, which implies a phasein of an alternative mode of mass transportation.

As in the handling of the squatter problem, officialdom must be firm in carrying out policy decisions, not to mention the law itself. Government must give priority to jeepney drivers and operators if they need assistance in shifting to an alternative business or to alternative areas of operation.

If a policy decision is made this early, even the generic design of the alternative mass transport vehicles could be made in advance. Assemblers and backyard bodybuilders then could adjust accordingly and not waste time and resources on designs facing phaseout.

* * *

ROXAS ON RIGHT TRACK: In this connection, we support the stand of Trade Secretary Manuel Roxas II to clamp down on the importation of second-hand vehicles. Some sectors want to bring in used vehicles with the excuse that they cost less.

Roxas summed up the rationale of the restrictions on importing used vehicles: “What is clear is the government’s policy to conserve dollars, promote the development of the industry, ensure the safety of motorists, and promote a clean environment.”

He urged all government agencies to harmonize with this policy. One agency referred to is the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, through which a large number of used motor vehicles are being brought in and auctioned off.

Roxas said he had no choice on the matter, because “we have no discretion in the implementation of the laws, executive orders, memorandums and Bangko Sentral issuances on used-vehicle imports.”

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 2, 2002)

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