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A plan to modernize the nation’s jeepneys

SEVENTY years after enterprising Filipinos transformed the American military jeep into the Filipino jeepney for mass transport in the country, it remains ubiquitous as ever all over the land. One would have expected modern buses and trains to take over in big cities like Metro Manila by this time, but the jeepney still runs today in city streets, incidentally contributing a sizeable share of the traffic problem.

Efforts to retire the jeepney as an urban passenger vehicle have met with organized opposition from drivers and their associations, who would lose their only means of livelihood. For every jeepney in the country, there are two or three drivers alternating in running specific routes to support their families. Retiring jeepneys would thus pose a major employment problem.

This is why Secretary of Finance Carlos Dominguez III called it a “politically challenging problem.” The jeepney may be an “inefficient dinosaur” that should give way to more modern vehicles with cleaner, healthier, safer, and more fuel-efficient engines. But until the nation’s employment program improves, the jeepney system is likely to persist.

Landbank will set up a R1-billion credit facility for a pilot project to replace an initial 650 jeepneys at P1.5 million per unit. “There will be political resistance, no doubt, from those who do not wish change… We must convince the jeepney drivers and operators that this is the way to go. They must understand that the financing package will make the shift affordable,” Secretary Dominguez said.

If the modernization scheme succeeds, it will help in the fight against climate change as it will retire so many old engines that are spewing out a great deal of carbon dioxide that contribute to rising world temperatures. But a more immediate and welcome change to us will be in improving traffic conditions as hundreds of thousands of old jeepneys are replaced by bigger vehicles capable of transporting more people.