THE Philippines has long been left out when it comes to modernizing its public transport system as compared with its neighboring Asian countries Malaysia and Singapore.
Take an example the horrendous traffic on Epifanio delos Santos Avenue or EDSA, the Philippines’ busiest thoroughfare in Metro Manila. How awful is it, you may ask—I’ll tell you that you will be able to finish perhaps several episodes of your favorite Netflix movie.
I live in the outskirts of Quezon City and I spend most of the week commuting three hours from home to work and another three hours from work to home. During my first year working, I thought it was acceptable—but then I realized as time comes that it should totally be unacceptable and should not be the new normal.
Not only traffic is excruciating in the Philippines but also thanks to the lack of safe, reliable, and convenient mass transportation system.
During the first eight months of the year, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority or MMDA said that a total of 405,882 vehicles passed through EDSA, an increase of 5.75 percent from the average 383,828 vehicles plying the same route in full year 2018. Majority of these were private cars.
Now, just imagine what traffic does to commuters ahead of the Yuletide season when they should be excited about the holidays and spending such holiday with their loved ones. Instead, you will see them at home sleeping and affording such little amount of time for relaxation before another day hammers them down again.
PUV Modernization Program
Fed up of the horrendous traffic and rants from these commuters, the government has embarked on an initiative to modernize the public transportation system through fleet modernization, and reorganization of routes, franchises, and vehicle standards.
The fleet modernization—one of the controversial issues of the initiative—involves the phase-out of old jeepneys or PUVs or those that are aged 15 and above and to be replaced with the more environment-friendly, safe, secure, and convenient with due consideration to persons with disabilities. This also includes the adoption of electric vehicles which were deemed more environment- and health-friendly.
Some of the modern vehicles are equipped with cashless payments through a beep card to help operators track their daily earnings, have closed-circuit television (CCTV) and dashboard cameras, free Wi-Fi, USB charge ports, personal fans, and air conditioner. Some also use electricity, Euro 4 and Euro 6 diesel, or are solar-powered.
While it may sound good for some, several transport organizations remained apprehensive of the idea, saying the program was “anti-poor” as it will drive small operators into debt due to the new jeepney models’ higher costs. The protests led to several transport strikes last year and it has further worsened commuters’ daily journey.
For an operator’s perspective, imagine having to pay for another P1.5 million for a modernized jeepney, or thrice the amount of the traditional ones, and this could go as much as P2 million, taking into account the borrowing interest from banks willing to lend for fleet modernization.
That P2-million would have afforded a Toyota Hi-Ace unit which could as well be used as PUVs. In this case, the operator will be able to earn higher. Just compare the fares of PUV to the minimum P9.00 fare when operating a jeepney unit.
E-vehicles to save health, environment
To complement the modernization plan, the government, through its Department of Trade and Industry or DTI also pushed for the adoption of electric vehicles in the country, or those that use electricity motors for propulsion. It has been existing in the Philippines for more than 10 years already, starting as a small employment of electric shuttles in Makati.
However, such initiative could not be fully-adopted due to the lack of public charging stations. Had public charging stations been ramped up, this e-vehicle initiative of the government would have prospered and helped not only reduce pollution but greatly benefitted people’s health.
To allay fears, it is badly needed for the government to pass into law a measure seeking to allow distribution utilities such as the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), a company willing to be at the forefront of boosting the e-vehicle industry, to put up their own charging facilities for e-vehicles.
It should be mentioned that outside distribution utilities’ establishments, residences could also now be an avenue for e-vehicle charging. However, depending on the e-vehicle that will be used, there is a need to install a separate circuit breaker and will require a higher voltage.
Cheaper costs, more benefits
As compared with a gasoline-type vehicle, an individual seeking to switch into an e-vehicle would incur lesser amount of expenses, an official said from a distribution utility firm said.
He said that for an e-vehicle, a driver can only spend P50 per day increase in its Meralco bill, as compared with a P200 daily expense for a gasoline-type vehicle.
Apart from cheaper expenses, other benefits also include cheap costs to run and maintain, more environment- and health-friendly due to less pollution and uses renewable energy.
Currently, there are 28 firms engaged in the manufacturing of various electric vehicles. Complementing these companies are 11 parts and component manufacturers and seven importers. The industry currently provides employment to 14,840 individuals.
The government may have embarked on doing something to provide public convenience, but it takes hard work and strong willingness from government officials to make it happen.
For commuters, all we can do are to elect the right official, and be more and more patient until the time we no longer need to.
PHOTO COURTESY: FLICKR