By John Leo Algo
Transport groups clamor for a ‘just clean energy transition’ in public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization program in the Philippines that secures both the livelihoods and welfare of the workers.
While the public has welcomed the plan of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to provide a more secure environment for commuters, drivers, and operators, as well as in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of jeepneys by switching to Euro IV-compliant or solar-powered engines, leaders of the Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (FEJODAP) opposed this transition.
Not an easy transition
Transport groups welcome the idea of modernizing their sector to help address climate change and environmental degradation, the groups assessed that current technologies for solar-powered vehicles are not yet suitable to address the needs of daily public transport.
“Our drivers are aware that pollution from their engines is one of the causes of climate change,” said Zeny Maranan, National President of FEJODAP. Maranan stated that during their test drives of these units around Quezon Avenue, the electric jeepneys struggled going uphill.
Mody Floranda, National President of PISTON, also expressed the sector’s desire to be environment-friendlier. “The emissions from our vehicles need to be cleaner. When we talk about the environment, our drivers support it as they want to breathe cleaner air,” he said.
She also questioned the readiness of current infrastructures needed for charging electric vehicles, stating that the government “should identify options for cost-effective batteries. Secondly, install charging stations. They say we can charge the batteries at home, but it’s not feasible.”
While these groups support modernization, they regard current government plans for it as opposite to a just transition, wherein economic sectors shift to more sustainable operations while securing workers’ livelihoods and rights. For instance, each modern unit costs around PHP2.2 million, which will be paid up to seven years. Even with a PHP80 thousand assistance from the government, they still regard this as too expensive.
Another issue involves the mandatory consolidation of small-time operators into cooperatives or corporations. These entities are designed to help drivers with the high costs of purchasing e-jeepneys and guarantee fixed incomes and social security and health benefits for drivers.
However, transport groups are concerned about the management of these cooperatives. With regards to providing a fixed income of PHP500 per day, Maranan stated that upon discussions with operators regarding corporations, “we have to start with five thousand pesos a month.” This is insufficient for drivers to either pay for the newer vehicle models or even provide for their families.
The groups also criticized the entry of big businesses into the public transport sector. Floranda believes that the current government guidelines favor a potential monopolization by private groups. For instance, he noted that some of the major terminals for PUVs around the Philippines are located within the premises of malls, a sign of such takeover.
“These services should be provided by the State because this is their responsibility to its citizens. Why then is this government program oriented towards big businesses?”, he said.
Floranda added that due to these challenges, “it’s not just drivers and operators who will lose their livelihoods, but also those dependent on transport activities”, including vulcanizing shops, carinderia owners, and others in the informal working sector.
Both transport groups agree that the government’s transition plan should focus on rehabilitating their vehicle fleets, especially on removing their outdated, polluting vehicles and upgrading the engines of others to Euro IV-compatible ones. Maranan noted that while solar-powered vehicles are not ready, even switching to cleaner fuels could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their sector in the meantime.
“Why shouldn’t they allow us to drop-and-substitute? Throw away the old ones, replace them with newer models”, she said.
They also expressed their willingness to comply to standards set by DOTr for safer features, including higher ceilings and exits on the side of the vehicle. Maranan claimed that rehabilitating their vehicles would save them up to PHP1 million per unit, which is helpful for the welfare of the workers and their families.
Floranda emphasized that the government must focus more on private vehicles, as they not only outnumber PUVs in the country, but also pose a bigger challenge in addressing climate change and environmental pollution.
“Our vehicles have a small contribution to transport emissions. Private vehicles actually emit much more pollution”, he said.
Ultimately, the state of public transport in the Philippines cannot undergo a just transition if other modes of transport are not addressed properly. Aside from regulating private vehicles, other measures such as removing colorum vehicles and improving other modes of public transport need to be focused on as well.
“If the overall state of our transport system is really good, there will be fewer vehicles on the roads,” Floranda said.
John Leo Algo is the Program Manager of Climate Action for Sustainability Initiative (KASALI). This article was published through the support of Rosa Luxemberg Foundation and Climate Tracker’s Climate Journalism Fellowship.
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