The Philippines has announced plans to replace 220,000 jeepneys nationwide with new public transport vehicles. Image Credit: AFP

Manila: Long-delayed plans to improve public transport in the country were given a boost today after the signing of an agreement to replace the ageing jeepney with modern units that are safer and more efficient.

“Today we embark on something more ambitious and politically challenging. We will try to replace 220,000 ageing and inefficient jeepneys (passenger jeeps) nationwide with new vehicles,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said on Tuesday as he announced the signing of a memorandum of agreement MOU between him as chair of the Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank), and Secretary Arthur Tugade of the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Under the terms of the agreement, the programme will provide assistance to jeepney operators by financing the acquisition of new electric and environmentally-compliant units.

The Philippines long-ago planned to replace what Dominguez described as “inefficient dinosaurs” of local roads, however, every time plans are drawn up, militant transport organisations oppose the programme fearing that they would lose their livelihood.

Dominguez said this time around, the jeepney operators and drivers need not fear displacement or loss of income, since a financing facility would be in place to cushion any disruptions in their livelihood.

According to LandBank president Alex Buenventura, the government financing institution has put up a P1 billion (Dh73,8 million) credit facility for the pilot project that will cover the replacement of an initial 650 public utility jeeps at P1.4 million (Dh 103,333) to P1.6 million (Dh118,095) per unit.

“There will be political resistance, no doubt, from those who do not wish change. We will have to conduct effective public diplomacy to raise the acceptance of this programme. We must convince the jeepney drivers and operators that this is the way to go. They must understand the financing package will make the shift affordable,” Dominguez said.

The replacement vehicles will help clear the air literally, make commuting safer for the public and contribute to a more rational public transport system, said Dominguez.

He said the new administration has the political will for making the transition from the smoke belching jeepneys to cleaner running public unity transport that uses either electricity, or international emissions-compliant gasoline and diesel engines.

“The government must carry out this difficult task of convincing public utility jeepney drivers and operators as well as the riding public that the ‘well-loved’ Philippine jeepney has become an inefficient dinosaur that must now be relegated to the museum and replaced with a cleaner, healthier, safer and more fuel-efficient means of everyday transport for the country’s bedraggled” commuters,” he said.

Evolved from the “general purpose” military jeeps of the United States armed forces during the Second World War, the jeepney has been regarded as a wonder of Philippine ingenuity and adaptation. But the ubiquitous public transport icon had been rolling hazards on the road, as a number of units every year figure in accidents as a result of poor maintenance and haphazard engineering.