The Philippine Jeepney: 3 Reasons To Support Modernization and 3 Reasons Not To

This iconic World War 2-era-patterned vehicle — the Jeepney — plies Philippine roads regularly. But the Philippine government wants them phased out, or are they?

A Philippine jeepney parked in a vacant spot. Photo by Rendan Cantipay from Pexels.

Background of Jeepneys

The Philippine Jeepney is a primary transportation mode plying virtually every single road in the country.

It is patterned after a World War 2-era vehicle named Willys Jeep. It is used exclusively by the US military to transport high-ranking officers and officials and is sometimes mounted with heavy weapons to assist ground forces on the field.

When these jeepneys were left unused when the Americans left the country after the end of World War 2, locals customized them to be able to fetch multiple passengers, giving birth to the primary transport option of Filipinos from then until now.

Government Modernization Plan

In 2017, the Philippine government launched the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) aimed to phase out jeepneys that are at least 15 years old.

The Philippine Department of Transportation (DOTr) aims to replace the aging jeepneys with modern ones equipped with Euro-4 compliant engines or entirely electric ones to combat air pollution.

Aside from these, they also require that the vehicle's primary entry and exit points be directed towards the road's curbside to promote passenger safety since old jeepneys only have a single entry and exit point at their rear.

Speed limiters, closed-circuit television cameras (CCTVs), automated fare collection systems, and GPS monitors are also required to promote passenger safety, convenience, and road compliance.

However, modern jeepneys are pricey and can cost from 950,000 Philippine pesos (USD 17,220) to 2.4 million pesos (USD 43,500) — which most jeepney drivers are far from able to afford.

Numerous jeepney transport groups requested extensions, and the government granted them. When the pandemic hit, another extension was granted.

This 2023, the modernization plan was reignited, and jeepney drivers were given until June 2023 to phase out their aging jeepneys, which outraged transport groups.

3 Reasons To Support Jeepney Modernization

The government's modernization plan is not, by all means, a perfect plan. But it's directed to accommodate passenger safety, convenience, and bigger benefits for drivers.

1. Modernization Promotes Passenger Safety

Old jeepneys lack the safety features to ensure a safe and smooth ride. In fact, most old jeepneys are undermaintained, if not maintained at all.

You can see most old jeepneys have tires that are as smooth as butter and other obvious signs of poor maintenance, such as lack of seating ergonomics, poor ventilation, rusty and dusty interior, and slippery floor.

Passenger security is also poor, as pickpockets and holduppers can quickly enter jeepneys without expecting any resistance since old jeepneys lack monitoring features such as CCTVs and GPS monitoring.

2. Modernization Promotes Cleaner Air

Smoke belching is rampant in the Philippines, and aging jeepneys are at the forefront. Since old jeepneys use old engines (usually diesel ones), emitting black smoke is a regular occurrence.

Air pollution is natural, and they cause 6.5 million deaths a year globally. The Philippine government has launched anti-smoke belching programs, which were inefficient, as many emission tests can be calibrated to fool standard ratings.

Many old jeepneys fail emission tests, a testament to the fact that the adage "hari ng kalsada" (literal translation: king of the road), which applies to jeepneys, is an overstatement.

3. Modernization Promotes Better Driver Benefits

The modernization plan wants jeepney drivers to enter contracts that protect them from overworking, under-compensation, and inhumane working hours.

For example, many jeepney drivers start work at the earliest possible time and stop work at the latest possible time to earn more.

When the modernization plan pushes through, cooperative managements will be tasked to manage jeepney fleets to address overworking, under-compensation, and absurd working hours.

Instead of the drivers starting work at 4 AM and stopping whenever they like (often pushing past their physical limits), they'll get fixed working hours and be compensated more.

3 Reasons NOT TO Support Jeepney Modernization

Even though the modernization plan is beneficial, it's not spared from issues and problems, particularly among the poverty-stricken jeepney drivers.

1. The Modernization Plan is ANTI-POOR

The minimum fee when riding a jeepney is 12 pesos, equivalent to 0.22 cents (you'll get a 20% discount if you're a student, senior citizen, or PWD).

If drivers get 20 passengers from point A to point B 10 times daily, they will get roughly 2,400 pesos (approximately $43.50). I know what you think; it's really not enough. There's more:

First, that 20-passenger capacity isn't always reached. In fact, most jeepneys just get 15 passengers and below in non-peak hours (notwithstanding the actual capacity of jeepneys is non-standard; some can accommodate 15 passengers, some 13, some 20, and so on).

Second, I've calculated that 2,400 figure without applying the discounts. A majority of those who patronize jeepneys are students (which means the 20% discount applies).

Third, jeepney drivers pay something called "boundary". This means that the jeepney driver pays the vehicle owner after his shift (much like renting the vehicle), aside from paying for gas and oil. Boundary fees can be 500 pesos a day ($9), plus the gas and oil.

This simply means a driver's take-home pay would be much lower than the initial profit from a day's worth of traveling. We're talking about taking home just anywhere between 500 to 800 pesos per day ($9 to $14.50).

2. The Modernization Plan is RUSHED.

You might think, "well, the plan's being pushed through as far back as 2017". But, the plan is indeed rushed since drivers can't pay for a modern jeepney with that price even after six years have passed. I mean, who can with profits that few?

If a jeepney driver owns his jeepney, then he might fare better than his counterparts who don't own one. But even owning a jeepney doesn't mean they can buy a pricey modern jeepney in just six years' time.

Only if the government subsidizes the cost of modern jeepneys, until then, we’ll never have modern jeepneys without putting a strain on the back of poverty-stricken drivers.

3. The Modernization Plan is FLAWED.

The plan being pushed through has its own fleet of issues. For one, China-made jeepneys are being pushed through instead of Filipino-made ones. The DOTr has, since then, refuted this and said managements could choose their own jeepney model.

Second, there is a lack of uniformity among modern jeepney models. Some have a minibus-like appearance, and some retain the traditional look of the jeepney with modern specs under the hood.

So, what should cooperatives follow? A modern minibus-like jeepney that doesn't look like a jeepney at all, or a traditional-looking one?

Third, how could authorities ensure the drivers are properly compensated by their respective cooperatives once the plan fully pushes through?

The Philippine Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) could get involved, but is this worth the time of drivers trying to earn a living with long hours of the day? With all the response delays, I guess not.

It might be better to just start working than stay at a DOLE office for 4 hours or more trying to get an appropriate response.

Summary

By all means, this is not to discount the government’s mandate to push through modernization, as it offers a ton of benefits both for drivers and commuters alike.

But with all this, at the expense of poverty-stricken jeepney drivers, it might be high time to take into consideration the economic impact modernization could bring once fully implemented.

Modernization can only push through once the government adjusts its plan and subsidize the acquisition of modern jeepneys.

In my opinion, that’s the only plausible way to continue modernization gradually without affecting other factors in play.

What do you think about this article? If you have insights and comments, let me know in the comments section!

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Freelance Content Writer | Musician | I write about the Philippines, geo and socio-politics, mindset, self-development, and just about everything in between

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Ace Christian Soriano

Freelance Content Writer | Musician | I write about the Philippines, geo and socio-politics, mindset, self-development, and just about everything in between