Exactly a month has passed since the deadline for the consolidation of jeepney and other public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers and operators was implemented, yet the calls of our local drivers and operators remain standing. On the national scene, an extension for unconsolidated drivers and operators was granted, but Davao City will have a different road to take—consolidated or not, jeepneys and other PUVs will be wiped out on the face of Davao by 2025.
Modernization seems promising—low-floored units, airconditioned and comfortable buses, efficient and eco-friendly vehicles. Nothing is wrong in dreaming of a better transportation service or wanting to change jeepneys that have exhaustively served the commuting public. But, the path to a modern transportation system is a roadblock for jeepney drivers to continue driving. When push comes to shove, Davao may exclude the people it vowed to serve and protect in the first place.
The Davao Public Transport Modernization Project (DPTMP) is a project by the local government unit (LGU) of Davao to improve the city’s local transportation system by replacing traditional jeepneys and UV express (vans) with eco-friendly electric buses. Intending to adopt a seamless transport route system, the DPTMP is the city’s solution to the road congestion crisis that Davaoeños suffers from. Currently, an estimated 6,000 jeepneys are actively operating. With 1,000 buses to be deployed under the modernization program, the numbers will show a significant drop in vehicles on the road.
However, as much as we want to reduce congestion and improve our public transportation system, the means to reach such an end is rather unjust and inhumane. The modernization program is straightforward on its stand: to terminate jeepneys and replace them with fewer buses. If we put stories to the numbers, the modernization project will not only remove the affected people’s primary source of income but also strip them of their rights to operate on the road. With the integration of modernization systems in the local scene, the exclusion of marginalized or small operators and drivers is inevitable.
In fact, Transmision-PISTON Davao launched a strike last December, paralyzing the city’s jeepney routes as a form of resistance to the jeepney and other PUV displacement. Instead of a phase-out, they advocate for jeepney rehabilitation, calling for the government to aid them in improving their jeepney units to comply with the environmental standards (EURO V) and be more inclusive to commuters instead of scrapping them altogether. Aside from rehabilitation, PISTON ought for the resurgence of the five-year effectiveness of their franchise instead of the one-year Provisional Authority.
Further, during a pop-up activity last week by Placemaking Davao in collaboration with the LGU, a representative from the office guaranteed that affected drivers and operators would be compensated and supported. Under the DPTMP, a Social Development Project (SDP) is designed to provide the affected people with financial and non-financial assistance and livelihood restoration. The financial assistance mentioned will be in the form of direct cash transfers. At the same time, non-financial support will be delivered through scholarships, job programs, and training by partner government agencies. An estimated 24,000 are anticipated to be affected by the PUJ phase-out in the second quarter of 2024, and all the costs for implementing the SDP to accommodate the number of affected people are said to be financed through existing national programs and/or counterpart funds (Asian Development Bank, 2023).
Although it is worth noting that the plans for the DPTMP are extensive and detailed enough to let us through the intricacies of the modernization program, it is also worth questioning whether the mitigating policies are long-term solutions, not just band-aid responses to the impending crisis. In fact, implementing the DPTMP would likely exacerbate the city’s existing problems. Firstly, there will be a foreseeable drop in the city’s employment rate once the DPTMP is fully operational. Secondly, with the integration of electric buses, commuters would have to brace for fare hikes in the near future.
We also have to take a second look at the solutions’ sustainability —is it enough to last a lifetime for people who will lose their livelihood? Are the actions inclusive, as they claim, to the clamors of the PUV community?
Jeepney drivers interviewed by Davao Today expressed doubts about being absorbed into the city’s workforce. Not all current drivers will be employed by companies under the DPTMP, so affected drivers would have to rely on the SDP, whose sustainability is contentious. The anxiety of being unable to land a job because of age and educational status looms continuously over our local drivers. Some even fear that the assistance will not be sufficient and will only be one-time support, as they still have to pay the remaining debt when they procure their jeepneys.
But most importantly, is the local government stable enough to fulfill its promises, given that its priorities change and that budget allocations vary from time to time, more so that the City might face the threat of budget cuts?
Instead of claiming that jeepneys were the leading cause of road congestion, the government has to reevaluate its statistics as private vehicles and the lack of urban planning may be the leading causes of such an issue. Instead of removing jeepneys and other PUVs in the city that will displace thousands of families, the government should consult the affected stakeholders and consider their pleas for rehabilitation. If life is indeed in Davao, it should start listening to its people and not exclude them from the rights they ought to have and enjoy.
Davao Public Transport Modernization Project: Report and Recommendation of the President. (2023, June 6). Asian Development Bank. Retrieved from https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/project-documents/45296/45296-006-rrp-en.pdf