POSTSCRIPT / October 13, 2019 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

Share This

Panelo now kinder to lowly jeepneys?

PRESIDENTIAL spokesman Salvador Panelo arrived in Malacañang 46 minutes late last Friday after a grueling “commute challenge” to take public transportation going to work.

The wiry lawyer, in shades and a white signature cap and a red blazer hanging on his arm, emerged from the 3.5-hour ordeal that should have taken only 1.5 hours, still not convinced that there is a mass transport crisis – only a traffic mess, he said — in the national capital.

He is not talking about it, but his trip may have shown him also that the jeepney, a rolling smorgasbord of Filipino taste, is still a useful backup in a metropolis left behind by transport modernization. Except for the last leg on a motorcycle, all his rides were on jeepneys.

Starting out at 5:15 a.m. in (1) New Manila, Quezon City, where a son lives, he took a jeepney to Cubao, eastward away from his Manila destination, (2) proceeded farther east on another jeepney to Concepcion, Marikina, where he resides, then (3) turned back to Gilmore, QC, on a jeepney, before (4) taking a fourth jeepney that took him to J.P. Rizal close to Malacañang.

When he returned to Cubao from Marikina, he said, his plan was to take the LRT-2 to Manila, but he dropped the idea because the media kept trailing him. He headed instead to the vicinity of J. P. Rizal by jeepney via Aurora Blvd.

With his seeming preference for jeepneys in that “commute challenge,” there was speculation that this may have been due to the absence of available alternatives (bus, light train) or he was trying to shake off media trailing him.

As for his first ride going east from QC instead of west toward Malacañang, speculations are that he may have lost his bearings. Or was he trying to confuse his stalkers? Our guess is that he went to Marikina to pick up or drop off something.

Panelo was on the road three hours and 31 minutes (5:15 to 8:46 a.m.) for a PU ride to the office that should not take more than an hour and 30 minutes in moderate traffic.

He “wasted” or lost a total of four hours (2 x 2 to include his going home) commuting, because of the mass transport gridlock (we are not calling it a crisis in deference to him) that is choking the national capital.

If there are at least three million individuals commuting to work or to business-related meetings every day in Metro Manila, multiply that number by Panelo’s sample of four hours wasted in traffic, and we log 12 million (4 x 3M) man-hours lost each day in the metropolis.

Multiply those man-hours by the variables that include wages, productivity, chain effect, etc. and we get the impact of the traffic mess (not a crisis yet?) in money value.

Whether he realized it or not, Panelo’s willingness to take on the challenge reopened discussions around the central question of what to do about the hellish traffic. We have not read of a Master Plan attacking the problem, only scattered comments from officials.

In 2017, a study funded by the Japanese government reported that Metro Manila loses some $67 million daily in lost productivity arising from the worsening traffic mess. The loss grows as the government continues not to mitigate the problem.

The pain caused by heavy traffic pressure is felt most acutely on EDSA, the 24-kilometer circumferential backbone between Caloocan and Pasay that takes at least three hours to negotiate at peak hours. The building of the Metro Rail Transit line (MRT-3) on it has not relieved the congestion.

 On with phaseout of old jeepneys

THERE is on the drawing board and talking points of land transportation bureaucrats the never-fading idea of “modernizing” the lowly jeepney, a World War II relic whose lifespan Filipino ingenuity has prolonged.

The Duterte administration’s version of the modernization program has, by reflex, been opposed by transport groups that denounce it as anti-poor, oblivious of its many progressive and forward-looking elements.

But looking at the model unit’s price tag and the limited capacity of the average jeepney driver (assuming the driver-owner will be allowed to operate as individuals), the ambitious modernization appears anti-poor.

The Land Bank estimates that each jeepney replacement will cost from ₱1.4 million to ₱1.6 million. But based on an annual interest rate of six percent and a payment period of seven years, the actual cost of a new jeepney reaches ₱2.1 million.

The program calls for phasing out jeepneys, buses and other public utility vehicles that are at least 15 years old and replacing them with safer, more comfortable and more environmentally-friendly units over the next three years. There are some 220,000 jeepneys nationwide.

Replacements must have at least a Euro 4-compliant engine or an electric motor to lessen pollution. Other required features include CCTV cameras, payment terminals, speed limiters and GPS monitors.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, a billionaire who takes unannounced rides on PU vehicles, vows to modernize the country’s public transport system.

He remains unfazed by the resistance, saying: “Past administrations wanted to modernize transportation, but every time people wave flags saying that the program is anti-poor, they take a step back. This has to stop.”

Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board chair Martin Delgra has said that 25 franchises have been cancelled by the LTFRB for participating in the 2017 and last year’s transport strikes in violation of the terms of the franchises.

He foresees about 80 percent of the jeepneys aged 15 years and older will be phased out before Duterte’s term ends in 2022.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 13, 2019)

Share your thoughts.

Your email address will not be published.