Manila’s iconic passenger jeepney, once regarded “King of the Road,” is headed towards change and uncertainty.
A Philippine government modernization program aims to do a major makeover of the jeepney and other modes of public transportation by improving their engines, safety and convenience. Aging jeepneys must go or be outfitted with cleaner engines, wi-fi and security cameras in an overhaul that poor Filipino drivers and owners say they can’t afford.
George San Mateo of Piston said the government program would displace more than 600,000 drivers and 250,000 owners and jack up fares. With new jeepneys costing between P1.2 million and P1.6 million, San Mateo complained that drivers have not been offered a concrete financial-assistance scheme by government.
Drivers have protested, but they got a warning from President Duterte after staging a two-day strike last month.
“By January 1, if I see any jeep of yours that has not been registered, I’ll drag them away in front of you,” the tough-talking President said.
Ed Sarao, whose family’s Sarao Motors Inc. is among the most popular jeepney manufacturers in the Philippines, said the company is awaiting the enforcement of the modernization program amid resistance.
“Right now, people are still clamoring for the traditional jeepney,” Sarao said, although he added that many prospective buyers have been asking when the modern jeepneys will roll on the road.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was invited to take a short ride on an “e-jeep,” which runs on electricity, on the sidelines of the recent ASEAN Summit.
“He’s very happy because he can see our aspirations in changing the Filipinos’ lives,” said Philippine Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade, who accompanied Trudeau. “He said that transportation here is really difficult, so there needs to be a lot of patience and understanding and creativity to address the problem.”
Manufacturers of the “modern jeepney” recently unveiled their models, some of which featured security and dashboard cameras, speed limiters, air-conditioning to fight the tropical heat and an automatic fare-collection system. Some were as big as buses for more passenger load and others have completely discarded the look of traditional jeepneys.