Jeepney driver says: Let us run our own show

A jeepney driver joins Metro Manila transport strike. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By all means, phase out the traditional jeepneys, but let the operators and drivers modernize on their own—basically, run their own show—without the need of a cooperative that may only serve big business. 

This, in essence, is jeepney driver Rey Escanilla’s stance on the government’s fresh push to modernize the Philippines’ iconic “king of the road” that moved thousands of drivers to declare a weeklong strike from March 6, until Malacañang quickly intervened with a promise to review the program. 

The government’s Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program, crafted in 2017, entails the replacement of diesel-fueled jeepneys that are 15 years old with newer, cleaner minibuses, and the consolidation of operators and drivers into cooperatives. 

Operators have to cough up P2.8 million to comply with the requirements—P300,000 paid-up capital and P2.5 million for a new unit. They must have a fleet of 15 jeepneys to start a cooperative. The government is offering a subsidy of 5.7% of each vehicle’s cost.

As good as new   

Escanilla, 54, who has been plying the Tandang Sora-Quezon City Hall route for 30 years, said operators could undertake their own modernization by buying, say, a new Sarao or Francisco Motors jeepney fitted with a surplus engine worth P500,000, with a bank loan. 

Related: Transport groups ‘will continue to make noise’ vs modernization plan

“That’s as good as a new jeepney,” he said.

Escanilla spoke with in an empty jeepney parked at a station near the Tandang Sora public market in Quezon City on Wednesday, the day transport groups ended their strike after a dialogue with Palace officials on Tuesday night.

He is a member of an association of drivers plying the same route, and was serving as the day’s dispatcher, ticking off the names of the arriving and departing drivers and their jeepneys’ license plates. 

In his case, Escanilla said, he could hack an arrangement with his jeepney operator (his sister-in-law) to take out a loan from a local bank to buy a new jeepney. He said he could gradually pay off the loan with his daily remittance of a quota fee through the so-called boundary system.   

“Yes, let’s modernize, but let’s do it individually. I’ll buy the new unit, manage and maintain it, and pay off the loan,” he said. “The boundary will be mine, and I can bring the jeepney home.” 

In this way, one can keep track of the daily earnings and adjust the quota fee accordingly, he said, adding that this could be the way forward for all parties.

On Mr. Marcos’ directive, agency officials promised during Tuesday’s dialogue to review the 2017 Omnibus Franchising Guidelines, which serves as the framework of the modernization program.  

Officials of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board have aired willingness to discuss with transport groups ways of improving the program, but stuck to the declared Dec. 31 deadline for the phaseout of older vehicles.

‘It sounds unfair’

Escanilla’s beef with the modernization program is the formation of a cooperative that will supersede the current system, in which an individual holds the franchise to operate one or more jeepneys and employs drivers to ply a certain route. 

In the end, the cooperative, or the people running it, will not only control operations but also hold the power of the purse, Escanilla said.   

“It’s difficult to join a coop because in the first place the jeepney will be in their name. All the jeepney’s income will go to the coop. Only after all the expenses have been deducted will you be paid. It sounds unfair. This puts the operator at a losing proposition,” he said.  

He wondered whether the cooperative could really make the short 3.5-kilometer Tandang Sora-Quezon City Hall route profitable, with a maximum 80 jeepneys operating, and pay each driver a reasonable amount after a day’s work. 

But his and his colleagues’ main opposition has to do with the prospect of operators and drivers surrendering their franchise in favor of the cooperative, Escanilla said 

“If the coop acquires our line, we will lose our franchise. That’s why we don’t want to join the coop,” he said. Then he declared: “I might as well go back to being a family driver. I will answer to only one boss.” 

‘Simple arithmetic’

Escanilla, who raised his three children aged 31, 18 and 11 by dint of his work as a jeepney driver, said the cooperative system would eat hugely into the daily income that operators and drivers are earning at present. 

Operators and drivers earn a daily net income of P700 and P500, respectively, or P21,000 and P15,000 a month. Compare that with, for instance, a cooperative earning a net income of P100,000 a month, and each of its 15 members getting only P6,666, Escanilla said. 

“Simple arithmetic will show you the big difference,” he said. 

Besides, organizing operators and drivers into a cooperative is challenging work, according to Escanilla. 

He cited the case of an operator who owns a fleet of 15 jeepneys: The operator formed a cooperative months ago, registered it with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and applied for a bank loan to purchase 15 new minibuses worth P2.6 million each. The bank denied the application after computing that the operator would be unable to pay the loan with his gross earnings from the short Tandang Sora-Quezon City Hall route.   

Escanilla also said he saw something sinister in the push to form cooperatives. He pronounced it profit-driven, more than anything else.

“There’s money in the coop,” he said. “There’s someone behind it who wants to control the transport industry in Metro Manila … It’s the coop that should go. If there’s anything that they should stop, it’s the coop.”

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