Halted physical classes, looming phaseout burden UP jeepney drivers

What you need to know: 

  • A student-less UP campus, coupled with limited seating capacity in jeepneys, makes it difficult for drivers to recover from a seven-month loss of revenue.
  • UP Transport Group Spokesperson Nolan Grulla said that only three out of 334 UP Jeepney drivers received cash grants from the government’s Social Amelioration Program.
  • Drivers are in danger of having their franchises revoked if they fail to comply with the jeepney modernization program before 2021.

Plying the UP-Pantranco route for a decade, jeepney driver Felix Mudlong used to shuttle hundreds of students and commuters in and out of the campus every day.  

Unable to pick up a single passenger since the lockdown in March, the 45-year-old driver from Nueva Ecija moved out of his rented room and stayed instead in his operator’s jeepney parked along Brgy. UP Campus. 

The onset of an unprecedented public health crisis catapulted him from an already difficult situation into a more miserable state, he said. 

What happened to Mudlong is one of the varying narratives that all 334 UP jeepney drivers have endured since lockdown restrictions suspended public transport last Mar. 16.  

UP has since greenlighted them to traverse the roads inside the campus, Oct. 31, after months of appeals to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and university administrators. 

But it is a long road ahead for these campus mainstays. With jeepney routes reopened, Mudlong and his fellow drivers will have to take their chances on a student-less campus in the meantime. 

Estudyante ‘yung inaasahan namin na pasahero talaga. Noong mawala ‘yung estudyante eh wala na [rin] kami halos na hanapbuhay,” Mudlong said. 

Aside from the loss of their usual passengers, limited seating capacity mandated by health protocols on public utility vehicles (PUVs) would also slash their daily earnings, UP-Pantranco Jeepney Association President Romeo Pascual said.

While jeepneys used to have a total load of 18 to 20 passengers, drivers now can only carry a maximum of eight to 10 passengers, Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) National President Modesto Floranda said. 

But for Mudlong, a decrease in profit is better than nothing. 

Kahit paano naman siguro pag makabiyahe, ‘yung panggastos araw-araw makukuha ‘yun eh. Wag lang ‘yung parang kawawa talaga na kung gusto mo mag-ulam ng isda eh wala,” Mudlong added. 

Empty pockets, crushed dreams

UP-Pantranco driver-operators used to earn around P1,500 a day, while those who rent their jeepneys like Mudlong earned P500 less because of paying boundary fees. An average P1,000 profit, Mudlong said, was enough to send money to his family back in the province. 

For the past seven months, however, Mudlong’s family has been grappling with financial shortfalls. His youngest son, an incoming college student, had to forego his studies since they could not afford remote learning expenses. 

Hindi ko alam kung makakapag-aral pa siya ulit gawa ng ganito nga ang sitwasyon. [Pambili] lang noong mga kailangan sa online class, wala ‘di alam kung saan kukunin,” Mudlong said. 

With no money to fend for their families, Pascual said most drivers from their association considered selling their jeepney units as their debts from local sari-sari stores or moneylenders kept piling up. 

Hindi mo [rin] naman sila masisi gawa ng walang kita, puro utang. Ang [ginagawa] ko na lang, binibigyan ko sila ng lakas ng loob na makakabalik-biyahe pa rin kami,” Pascual said. 

Despite their return to the road, UP Transport Group Spokesperson Nolan Grulla said it will not be easy to get back in business. They have to undergo the costly process of rehabilitation since months of halted operations may have impaired their jeepneys’ conditions. 

During the early days of community quarantine, drivers were forced to beg for money along the streets of C.P. Garcia Avenue to get food on their families’ tables.

Missing government aid

Government relief efforts are meant to support vulnerable sectors during the pandemic. However, PISTON said jeepney drivers are often excluded from getting aid, leaving them to scour for resources on their own. 

“‘Yung mga pinamimigay na bigas [at] de lata ay halos hindi [rin] natatanggap ng mga driver. [Kaya] ‘yung iba ay namamalimos na lang, ‘yung iba ay nangangalakal naman ng basura,” Floranda said. 

Even the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s P16,000 cash grant for low income families under the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) were hardly acquired by drivers. In UP Diliman alone, Mudlong and Grulla claimed that only three out of 334 jeepney drivers in the campus were deemed eligible for the SAP’s first tranche. 

Grulla was shocked since the LTFRB assured them that all drivers who attended the agency’s road safety seminars in 2019 were automatically qualified as SAP beneficiaries. Still, other drivers hoped they would be included in the second portion. 

But instead of additional beneficiaries, the number of recipients were slashed. The three drivers who got P8,000 in the first tranche never received the remaining half. 

Sinabi [ng LTFRB] na kung nakakakuha kayo ng seminar, pasok kayo sa bibigyan. Parang ginawa kaming uto-uto,” Grulla added. 

The lack of government support forced drivers to rely on private sectors for help. Pascual said they were able to get by because of student and alumni-led donation drives that provided them with in-kind goods and monthly financial aid from July to September. 

Yet these donations would only last them a couple of days because they have no income, Mudlong said. 

Pagka kinukulang, may tindahan naman na mauutangan. Ipapangako na lang namin may makukuha [na pera] sa susunod na buwan, he added.

To ease the impacts of the pandemic on the transport sector, the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) has earmarked P2.6 billion for assistance, including fuel subsidies equivalent to 30% of the daily consumption of PUVs. 

Meanwhile, slow release of funds left drivers in the dark. Less than two months before the law expires on Dec. 19, Mudlong said they have not yet heard anything about the plan that would come either as a one-time cash grant or vouchers. 

“Yung [sa] Bayanihan 1 wala namang nakakuhang driver sa SAP tapos may panibago na naman,” Mudlong said. “Dapat diyan sa [mga nasa gobyerno] magpalit kami ng sitwasyon para malaman nila kung gaano ang hirap namin.”

Livelihood in peril

Despite insufficient incomes, drivers who used to reign the bustling streets are at the death knell of the PUV Modernization Program.

The modernization program, which began in 2015, aims to have an environmentally-sustainable public transit by replacing current PUVs, including jeepneys, with vehicles having Euro-4 engines emitting less air pollutants. 

It also requires new technology features like automated fare collection systems, CCTVs, GPS and Wi-Fi, among others. 

Five years into the program, PISTON said only few were able to comply as it was impossible for regular drivers and operators to afford the P2.6-million cost of modernized jeepney units or mini-buses proposed by the government. 

Even with an option to avail these units in P24,000 monthly installments for seven years, Pascual said they could not shoulder such an amount even with their pre-pandemic earnings — ranging from P30,000 to P40,000. 

Kahit na normal ang sitwasyon mahihirapan pa ring hulugan dahil sobrang laki. Baka naman kuba na kami eh hindi pa kami nakakabayad,” Pascual added.

Now, drivers and operators must consolidate their fleets under a cooperative before Dec. 31 or have their franchises revoked, contrary to the Bayanihan 2 provision barring phase-out of any PUV “as the industry transitions into the new normal.“

Malaki rin ang gagastusin [sa consolidation]. Hindi namin ‘yan kakayanin lalo pa ngayong kakaunti ang kinikita ng mga driver at operator,” Floranda said. 

A 2017 report by the Crispin B. Beltran Resource Center found that for a fleet composed of 20 units, a cooperative would already invest at least P30 million, depriving small operators from maintaining a franchise. 

Big corporations that can finance the requirements of the modernization program will gain a monopoly on public transport and will result in “fare hikes of at least 50% to ensure returns on their investments,” the report stated. 

Jeepneys unable to consolidate by year’s end can still apply for a provisional authority valid for one year, but only if no groups with modernized units are running their routes yet. 

They also need to pass “roadworthiness” evaluations by the Land Transportation Office and file petitions of intent to form cooperatives and drop their old units within a certain period of time. 

Failure to meet these conditions would have their routes opened for other applicants compliant with the modernization program.

Fight for their existence

With the looming phaseout, Grulla said resuming operations albeit depressed incomes would at least allow them to protect their spots on the road. 

Kahit walang estudyante, gusto naming makabalik pasada kasi kung hindi kami gagawa ng paraan baka mawala na kami sa kalsada. Baka mapunta na sa mga bagong sasakyan,” he added.

Floranda said they are not against modernization, but rather its inhumane implementation. 

Bakit hindi rehabilitation ng mga pampublikong transportasyon? Ang jeep mula 1946 ay nagseserbisyo na sa mga mamamayan. Sa halos 75 years ay walang kaakibat na suporta ang gobyerno dito,” Floranda said. 

The likes of Mudlong, who have the jeepney not only as means of living but also as a constant companion, continue to fight against efforts to chase them off the streets. Even in the face of a pandemic, Mudlong said they will not throw in the towel too easily. 

Hindi mangyayari na basta maphase-out na lang [kami] dahil ipaglalaban din namin ‘yung para sa amin,” he said. 

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