Every Pinoy’s Lifetime Ride

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THIS WEEK, WE’VE HAD TWO colossal holidays, no doubt government’s way of dealing with the public utility jeepney strike pulled by every Pinoy’s Mamang Tsuper. Whichever way you see it, the sudden holidays brought out the best and the worst of times. Pedestrians — government office workers and students — suddenly found themselves workless and classless. Bless them for they knew exactly where to spend the waking hours, where else but in malls and parks.

But stripped of the built-in jest that routinely comes from holiday experience, it’s about time we seriously take the issues out of the streets. The whole controversy revolves around two keywords: jeepney modernization. Government wants it imposed, like it or not, citing environment-friendly and more efficient public transportation option. Mamang Tsuper and his operator-employer want nothing of it, invoking economic reasons: the modernized contraption, looking like a mini-bus, is way too much to cope with, money-wise.

An icon of Pinoy culture, the jeepney has long been every man’s ride. At P10 minimum, one gets to where he’d want, from which he has lived a full lifetime traversing roads, whether in urban cities or in rural towns. For sentimentalists who drool over what has become part of their growing up years, the jeep has always represented the ever-reliable mass transport system they’d ever known. For them, never mind if it has had nearly a century of too much smoke-belching and on-the-road breakdowns. For them, never mind if it’s the most unsafe of contraptions ever allowed to ply even more unsafe roadways. They’ve lived through it, surviving every journey, experiencing untold moments that are much too much Pinoy.

But, past is past and the public transport pang-masa system that the Pinoy jeepney represents must go through a timely, relevant, and necessary evolution. Running on diesel fuel, the vehicle evicts the toxic fumes that have made the country one of the most polluted places this side of the globe, including even our fabled City of Pines, where the daily obnoxious ejection has become a serious air quality issue (but that’s another sidebar to this raging controversy).

Decidedly, it’s all about clean air and we even have a law mandating it everywhere else. Government insists that the way to go is for the old, dilapidated coffins masquerading as public transport to be replaced by modern vehicles that have engines and designs compliant with local and international standards. True, we must foster friendlier environmental compliance and these old fogeys just won’t do, given the lethal gas emissions our atmosphere has been getting, to the global detriment.

But one thing makes the issue gut-wrenching. There’s the economic cost that appears too daunting for both the driver and the operator to accept, which is why they’re all up in arms at the government-initiated idea. Is the new contraption affordable? Will the hapless driver be able to earn enough daily income to meet the daily burden of having to set aside the usual boundary fee (for the operator), his usual daily family needs, and still be able to shell out in all willingness about P200 for the loan-financed contraption?

As estimated by the government, each modern unit will cost from P1.2 to P1.6 million, making Mamang Tsuper cough up about P800 a day for seven years, just to comply with the financing arrangements. Just how will he survive this financial nightmare, amid the escalating money needs of a growing family, rising fuel costs, messier and therefore longer traffic routes, higher boundary rates, steeper street food costs, let alone the other daily burdens that come his way each hour of his driving day?

Perhaps, the government initiators of the jeepney modernization program have not been just patient and persevering enough in evaluating the cost-efficiency aspects before bringing the idea up to light. Perhaps, the affected transport sector — Mamang Tsuper and his operator-employer — has not been had more opportunity to evaluate and counter-propose alternative ways of enforcing what government wants. Since the opposition is economic in nature, actually the question of affordability, couldn’t the government tap other lending sources, domestic and foreign, that can package better arrangements, taking into serious consideration the financially strapped transport sector?

The Jeepney Modernization Program anchors its heart in upgrading the only public transportation system built into Pinoy custom and tradition. While the proferred replacement is environmentally efficient, reputably to run on clean energy, it should be properly re-packaged in response to publicly pronounced financial burdens. It should be made affordable in cost, accessible to you and I and the rest of us in terms of our transport fare, and available with the least of worry. So-called modern conveniences like Wifi and air-conditioning services are unnecessary attractions that any jeepney-riding passenger can do without, if these should add up to fare costs.

In sum, it’s all about talking and listening to one another, with each side willing to understand what modernization is all about. Obviously, when communication lines are blurred by emotional responses, not much appreciation of good faith can come about. At this time — lest we get treated again by sudden holiday events — it’s never too late to get back to the drawing table and get each other’s faith leaping out of the streets.

Meantime, here’s my jeepney ride to town. Time to get on board in the usual swift butt-in move.

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