MANILA – After a long, long wait and hibernation, the country’s jeepneys and Utility Vehicle Express vans will finally ply again on the streets of Manila. This was disclosed by Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) chair Atty. Martin Delgra III during an online hearing called by the House Committee on Metro Manila Development on Wednesday.
In the hierarchy of transportation allowed by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to travel due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, the country’s iconic jeepneys are at the bottom. The government is pushing for the full implementation of the modernization program of public utility vehicles in the country within the year causing dismay of thousands of small transport operators and drivers who may be displaced in the process.
Atty. Delgra replied to a query of Caloocan City representative Edgar Erice that “For Monday, slots will be opened for UV and then followed by the traditional jeepney.” Rep. Erice asked the LTFRB chief of specific dates for the resumption of UV Express vans and jeepneys operations in Metro Manila because of the deplorable scene that jeepney drivers are begging for money in the streets.
Now that there is a slight respite of the lockdown, the transportation sector including jeepney operators and drivers have appealed for the resumption of their operations because they have also complied with the minimum health and safety standards imposed by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease.
The main contention of the DOTr of traditional jeepneys is on its seating design wherein passengers will face each other which is very risky for virus transmission. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Wednesday also said the seating on jeepneys needed to be reconfigured so that passengers would face forward, as on buses.
However, traditional jeepneys are now allowed to operate in Davao City as long as operators will limit their passengers up to 50% of the usual seating capacity and they will put plastic barriers on both sides and front of the passengers. After weeks of implementation, the city is contemplating of stripping down the front barriers as long as passengers will wear their face masks all the time and other health safety standards are followed.
Disheartened by the inaction of the government of their plight, some drivers went to the extreme of threatening to burn their vehicles in the streets to dramatize their displeasure for not giving them the chance to earn a living in the guise of the battle against the pandemic.
After many months without income, many jeepney drivers have resorted to begging in the streets for money and food. Some drivers especially those who are not from Metro Manila have made their jeepneys as their home and survived from donations and food rations from the barangay and good- hearted individuals.