AS I try to stress every time the subject is raised, the solution to traffic gridlock and the inadequate and inefficient public transportation system that is the chief cause of congestion is much bigger than anyone seems to realize. Any attempt to fix part of the system – currently, the focus is on jeepneys – necessarily requires action in many other areas in order for the fix to work. That usually doesn’t happen, the compartmentalized nature of government policy and process being what it is, which is why nothing seems to work, and expectations for announced “solutions” are cynically low.
The government’s modernization program for jeepneys is basically a good idea: Jeepneys that are older than 15 years are to be removed from public service, and some accommodation will be offered—although details are a bit fuzzy, this will likely be in the form of low-cost loans or other financial support—to jeepney owners to replace the old units with either electric units or conventional vehicles with more up-to-date, Euro 4-compliant engines.
That program, however, only addresses the vehicle component of the bigger problem, and even though the individual vehicles will be an improvement, in a way it makes the overall problem worse, because there will be fewer jeepneys; not all those to be decommissioned will be replaced. In order for the jeepney modernization program to have a lasting positive impact on the country’s transportation environment, much more has to be addressed as part of the program.
One of the most challenging issues is the mindset of the population, which is lazily accustomed to door-to-door transportation. Having to walk a block or two to reach a transportation line is considered perfectly normal in places where public transit works effectively, and in the Philippines’ generally friendly climate, should not be considered a hardship for most people here. One thing those cities have in common, however, is a more pedestrian-friendly environment—actual sidewalks, which are not clogged with itinerant vendors, used as parking space, or considered part of the road by motorcycle riders.
Another thorny issue that must be resolved is the persistence of the “boundary system” for jeepneys (and buses as well), despite general acknowledgement that it is oppressive to transport workers and contributes to dangerous behavior, and repeated attempts to legally put an end to it. The boundary system, which is essentially a per diem lease of the vehicle that treats drivers and helpers as independent contractors rather than employees, is common in taxi operations, even in other countries. It works for taxis (although even here it has its detractors) because taxis do not operate on fixed routes, and thus, there are looser limitations on what a driver can earn. It is completely inappropriate for fixed-route systems, and should be abolished once and for all.
Eliminating the boundary system, in particular, will allow for better management of jeepney routes, which should focus on three things: Shifting jeepney routes away from those that are covered by other forms of transportation (light rail or bus), establishing fixed stops along the routes, and running the jeepneys on fixed schedules. For example, jeepneys could be dispatched from the terminal end of a route every two minutes, whether or not they’re filled with passengers.
A great deal of attention should be directed toward the regulation of jeepneys as well. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is appallingly ineffective—but it should be emphasized that this is by design, rather than the fault of the personnel manning the agency. Jeepney operators should be subjected to much closer oversight and stricter requirements that are not imposed or are inconsistently enforced now. Some examples of things in which regulation is lacking or completely non-existent now include vehicle safety and emissions inspection; driver training and competence; and rationalization of franchises, to ensure that supply of jeepneys in particular areas reasonably matches passenger demand, both to provide adequate service for the public and give jeepney operators a fair chance to earn attractive revenues.
The suggestions are summary in nature; the details of each of them are numerous and complex, and will take a long time to completely resolve. A job that is never started, however, will never be finished, and in that sense perhaps, imposing the modernization program is a good first step, so long as the government does so with the understanding that it is just one step of many.