Piston phaseout
The nationwide transport strike led by Piston, which claims to have at least 100,000 member-drivers and operators, has kicked off a strike on Monday (November 20, 2023). Image Credit: Piston | X

Manila: A powerful group of Filipino public transport drivers staged the second transport strike in as many months to push back of the “modernisation” of jeepneys, the country’s most popular form of last-mile transport.

They also reject a government offer of up to $6,000 per jeepney owner, as the government want old units to be scrapped and individual owners are mandated apply for a new franchise with modern, more expensive mini-buses, as a cooperative or corporation.

The nationwide transport strike led by Piston, which claims to have at least 100,000 member-drivers and operators, has kicked off a strike on Monday (November 20, 2023). Here's what you need to know:

Who is staging strike?

A group of jeepney drivers and operators known as Piston is staging three-day transport strike starting Monday (November 20).

What are they striking against?

The group said they are protesting the Public Utility Vehicle Modernisation Programme (PUVMP). More specifically, Piston wants to push back on planned “jeepney phaseout” by December 31, 2023, as announced by the government through the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), an agency under the Department of Transport (DoTr).

How long is the strike?

The group has announced the strike from Monday (November 20) to Wednesday (November 22). Piston said they want to protect their livelihood and their rights.

Who is joining the strike?

Piston said their estimated 100,000 members, as well as their local federations, were expected to join the nationwide transport strike, according to Mody Floranda, Piston president.

Aside from Piston, transport group Manibela also said that they will join the transport strike in protest of the same issues. On October 15, a group of drivers and operators of passenger jeepneys, UV ExpresS led by Manibela, staged a nationwide strike to protest the alleged corruption at the LTFRB.

In certain cities such as Talisay, Cebu, Piston claimed up to 80 per cent of owners and drivers of modern minibuses also joined the strike.

What is the effect of the strike so far?

Local media reported on Monday, the first day of strike, a lack available public transport, as commuters piled up. The LTFRB said it's just a :typical” Monday morning rush-hour scenario.

Several universities have either canceled in-person classes or switched to online modes of learning due to the transport strike. Local government units also provided “libreng sakay” for commuters.

Piston leaders challenged Guadiz to have a dialogue with them on Monday. It’s not clear if the dialogue pushed through.

What is the “jeepney phaseout” about?

The “jeepney phase-out” forms part of the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), first announced in 2017. The LTFRB deems old jeepneys unsafe and environmentally damaging.

Modern jeepneys or mini-buses are being introduced as part of the programme — but the price is up to 7 times more expensive than regular jeepneys.

The government has been pushing for jeepney modernisation to maximise the benefits of modern transport technologies.

What does jeepney “modernisation” mean?

To qualify for fresh franchise, PUVMP calls for a number of changes, including:

  • All jeepney engines should at least be Euro-4 and PNS- (Philippine National Standards) compliant engines or LPG-powered, electric, and hybrid.
  • New units must be fitted with GPS
  • New units must have an automated fare collection system
  • Units are mandated to have a CCTV camera.
  • Units that are at least 15 years old can no longer be registered or operated.

  • To qualify for franchise, PUV operators must form cooperatives or corporations, instead of being individual applicants.
  • Encouraging / mandating the consolidation of transport operators
  • Establish bigger coordinated fleets of PUVs
A modern jeepney that forms part of the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP)
A modern jeepney that forms part of the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) Image Credit: PIA

What is the main demand of strikers?

It boils down to money and deadlines. Typically, a traditional jeepney (powered by recondition diesel engines imported from Japan) ranges from only Php200,000 to Php400,000. A typical modern bus (typically imported from China), which existing owners/operators must now acquire, costs an estimated Php2.8 million.

The Piston group demands that the December 31, 2023 deadline to consolidate individual jeepney drivers and operators into cooperatives or corporation should be pushed back and be made open-ended.

Piston decries the high upgrade cost to comply with PUVMP guidelines. Shifting to new minibuses will entail a huge investment. The Piston members fear the deadline and modernisation mandate will push them deep into debt.

Will all jeepneys be scrapped under PUVMP?

No. But under the programme, jeepneys need to be modernised across the country —engines must at least Euro-4 and PNS- (Philippine National Standards) compliant or LPG-powered, electric, and hybrid.

And no vehicle older than 15 years old, would be given a franchise as a public transport vehicle. It’s not clear what is the average age of Philippine jeepneys currently on roads.

What is the government’s response?

The LTFRB sought a dialogue with Piston, and the latter responded in the affirmative, but that the strike would still push through.

The government, on the other hand, has prepared ride-for-free (libreng sakay) operations. Aside from “libreng-sakay” vehicles from various government agencies, the LTFRB issued special permits to over 160 jeepney units to ply other routes that will require additional public vehicles in order to dull the effect of the three-day transport strike.

LTFRB also said the government is ready to deploy more than 1,000 vehicles and 9,000 cops as the agency has identified at least 13 transport routes that may be affected by the three-day PUV strike.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has advised on X (formerly Twitter) the suspension of the expanded number coding scheme in the metropolis.

Why are jeepneys important in the Philippines?

Despite the introduction of modern mini-buses, “jeepneys” are considered a lifeline for Filipino commuters, especially students and lower-income workers.

They offer an affordable mode of transportation that support the livelihoods of thousands of independent operators, many of whom form part of a union like Pison, Fejodap, Manibela and others.

How much does a jeepney operator earn per day?

“A jeepney operator, on average, earns a daily gross income of 2,500 to 3,000 pesos. Expenses — fuel, maintenance, and payments for the jeepney driver (typically at P500)— reduce that income.

What’s the problem with public transportation modernisation?

Jeepneys are repurposed from the left-over US-made general-purpose “GP” vehicles, following World War II. Most jeepneys currently on the Philippines, however, are handcrafted in backyard auto workshops and are powered by reconditioned diesel engines imported from Japan.

Jeepneys are mostly owned by individual “operators”, or families. The public transport modernisation drive has seen a fair amount of success in recent months.

Today, in many towns and cities, modern minibuses had been introduced and they work alongside the old jeepneys. The modern minibuses are usually acquired with government backed loans, mostly to transport cooperatives.

What deal is the LTRFB offering to those who join PUVMP?

The board said it is considering granting five-year franchise — known as “provisional authority — to jeepney operators (owners of transport units) as long as they join the PUVMP.

Earlier this month, Land Transportation and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) chairman Teofilo Guadiz III said that public utility vehicles will be given enough time to consolidate into cooperatives or corporations.

“As of now, we're only giving them a one-year provisional authority to time it with the modernisation programme. But the moment that they join the modernisation programme, we can provide them with a five-year authority,” Guadiz told local media.

“The concept is that when you modernise, it can't be done individually, in bits and pieces. Your modernisation won't progress if you do it one at a time. However, we are giving them a very long time, at least around three years,” said Guadiz.

Immediate consolidation, he explained, is not necessary to complete the process on the day of the deadline.

“By the mere filing (for consolidation), you can be considered consolidated,” he added.

He also said that as part of their negotiation with transport groups, LTFRB may grant a five-year provisional authority to franchises as long as they join the modernisation program.

He clarified that drivers and operators who will join the transport strike will not be penalised contrary to his pronouncement on November 16 when he said that joining the strike could lead to the suspension or revocation of their franchises.

What happens on December 31, 2023 deadline?
Before the December 31 deadline, traditional jeepneys and UV Express drivers and operators are mandated to merge into cooperatives or corporations.

Those who don't comply will be mandated to cease operations as mandated by the PUV modernisation programme.

How can operators fund the jeepney modernisation?

State-owned banks like the DBP and LandBank offer loans to transport cooperatives. In March, LandBank approved Php6.9 billion worth of loans which could be lent to transport cooperatives and corporations for the purchase of modern jeepneys. There’s been a call for simplifying loans processing.

Rep. Wilbert T. Lee (AGRI Party-list) filed a house resolution on Monday urging the LTFRB, Landbank of the Philippines (Land Bank), and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) to streamline requirements and simplify the process of the implementation of the modernization program.

“Through this proposal, we aim to expedite the process, reduce or shorten the requirements so that everyone is encouraged and able to comply with the implementation of PUV modernisation”.

Piston claimed that the high cost of modern jeepneys could burden operators with substantial debt, highlighting unit prices reaching as high as P2.8 million each.

Aside from the said loan from LandBank, Guadiz said that the government will be providing Php200,000 to Php350,000 subsidy to operators who will join the modernisation programme.

“That's not a government loan, it's provided to every operator for each vehicle they will modernise," said Guadiz.