PUV drivers given more time to ply routes despite March 31 consolidation deadline

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 16) — Jeepney and UV Express operators will not be immediately banned from serving commuters despite a looming March deadline to join cooperatives and secure a transport franchise, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board or LTFRB said Tuesday.

LTFRB chairman Martin Delgra clarified during a Senate hearing that the deadline for consolidation will not mean that public utility vehicles (PUVs) not part of a specified group per route will be phased out.

"[The] 'Yung consolidation as a deadline is set on March 31 but it does not mean [those who failed to consolidate won't be allowed to operate] na titigil 'yung mga hindi nag-consolidate. [We have] Meron po kaming MC-066, we have said na if you have not consolidated at the end of the period we have stated there...you can continue to ply but you are still given one year to consolidate," Delgra told the Senate Public Services and Finance Committees.

The regulator said forming transport cooperatives will makes it easier for operators to borrow money from banks to upgrade and expand their fleet. It also allows fixed salaries and benefits for drivers, doing away with the cutthroat "boundary" system.

READ: Is it possible for drivers to pay ‘boundary’ while observing social distancing?

A total of 2,589 PUV units have complied with the modernization program as of end-2020, nearly double the previous year's tally, the LTFRB said. This covers jeepneys, UV Express units, minibuses and buses.

Senator Grace Poe said under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, no PUV can be phased out while the pandemic is ongoing—a safety net inserted by lawmakers last year to protect an estimated 100,000 public utility drivers nationwide.

Meanwhile, the Move as One Coalition urged the Department of Transportation to raise the equity subsidy for the purchase of modern jeepneys to ₱500,000 from the current ₱160,000 per unit to reduce the debt shouldered by drivers and operators.

Modern jeepneys cost at least ₱1 million to as much as ₱3 million. Danilo Yumul of the Confederation of Drivers and Operators in Central Luzon said it's impossible for drivers to afford this as it would mean paying ₱40,000 a month to the bank. However, Pasang Masda chair Robert Martin said their current fleet only requires an amortization of up to ₱29,000.

Also during the hearing, Senators scolded transport officials for the slow rollout of new public transport routes in towns and provinces, which is another component of the PUV Modernization Program.

Delgra said only 611 out of the 1,575 local government units have submitted local public transport route plans (LPTRP) to the agency, leaving more than half of areas in the country without identified routes for jeepneys, buses, and UV Express units.

"If the DOTr does not conduct a rationalization study and just rely on the LGUs...and the LGU does not prepare its LPTRP, the applicant may be held hostage by the inaction or delay," Senator Joel Villanueva said, pointing out that the transport plans are delayed by four years already.

The agency has overhauled transport routes in Metro Manila as public commuting was allowed again after months of lockdown last year. The new rules restrict certain roads to just one mode of transport––for example, jeepneys are no longer allowed to ply EDSA except when traversing from one side road to the other.

RELATED: Transport group fears gov't using COVID-19 crisis to replace traditional jeepneys