Let’s admit it. Public transportation in Metro Manila, and in the country in general, needs to be improved, which some may consider a total understatement. Not taking into consideration the problems with mass rail transportation (looking at you, Line 3), we are all too familiar the sight of people hanging by the entry rear of the jeepney, especially during rush hour, or the packed buses where passengers don’t have any space to wiggle.
Then there is also the problem of pollution some of these vehicles emit thanks to poor fuel consumption, vehicles visibly suffering wear and tear but are still plying the roads. All these things compound the already very, very bad traffic situation in the metropolis.
The Department of Transportation (DOTr) has long been aware of these problems. And the Urban Roamer has to give them credit to them for finding ways to address those specific matters. The results of these studies is the department’s public transport modernization program, a program that is at least as ambitious as the “Build, Build, Build” program.
To showcase these plans for the future of public transport in the country, the DOTr recently held a “Public Transport Modernization Expo” at the PICC Forum last April 3. Unfortunately, and frustratingly, this was only a one day event so the Urban Roamer had to clear some things that day just to attend this. Hey DOTr, the next time you hold a public transport expo, can you make it at least 2 days, with one of them happening on a weekend? But I digress.
The Public Transport Modernization Expo served to showcase various prototypes of jeepneys, buses, and tricycles which are envisioned to be the ones we will be seeing in our streets in the future. All of them conforming to the standards that have been recently set by the Bureau of Product Standards as far as configurations and capacity are concerned, among others. Just what are these standards, you may ask. Here are some examples, to give you an idea:
- The new jeepneys will have a higher headroom, which means people will no longer have to bend really low when they enter.
- All jeepneys are mandated to accommodate at least 22 passengers aside from the driver
- The entrance/exit of jeepneys will now be located at the right, which means the “sabit” days are over. There is however a provision in some models for an emergency exit at the back where the old exit would be located.
- CCTVs installed inside vehicles for security, as well as dashcams to monitor road driving
- Fuel-run vehicles should be at least compliant with the Euro 4 emission standards
- Adoption of automated fare collection system, which means passengers will be using beep cards to pay for the fare
- Vehicles will have GPS technology not only for tracking purposes but also to compute the fare in relation to the earlier bullet point that fare collection will be automated now.
In addition, part of the modernization program is that bus and jeepney drivers will no longer earn by means of going on a minimum number of trips/passengers per day. Rather, they will receive a fixed salary plus mandated government benefits as well. This is part of an effort to “professionalize” the sector of the public transport drivers.
Going back to the vehicles, the expo was an opportunity for the different auto manufacturers to showcase their prototype vehicles, each boasting their compliance to the standards and then some. Some vehicles have ramps as well as dedicated spots for PWDs. Others have tablets which have GPS and other apps installed for the use of the driver.
With all these new features, as well as the technologies available, the only question that remains is the price. How much would they cost and can the jeepney driver/operator afford at least one unit? Admittedly, the costs are a bit high with estimates starting at around Php 1.5 million/unit. But according to the DOTr, the amount is offset by the fact that the new vehicles will require less maintenance. In addition, there are government financing options available for transport groups. Yes, transport groups. Under the modernization scheme, the government is urging transport groups to organize themselves as enterprises and pool their resources together. Remember, the drivers will now be salaried under the program so it makes sense for the public transport operators to group together as transport companies of some sort.
The public transport modernization program is set to begin in Metro Manila this June with 6 pilot routes in place. CNN Philippines reports that these routes are: Cogeo-Market Market, SM Masinag-Market Market, SM Masinag-SM Fairview, Quezon City Hall-Manila City Hall, Gateway NLEX-Malolos, and CCP-SM Mall of Asia. It will be interesting how this will turn out. I hope it does turn out well and it will be the beginning of better things for our public transportation system. Because, by golly, it’s something we desperately need right now.