Jeepneys: Who are they?
Jeepneys are one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Philippines. Withover-the-top decals and a long, open-air passenger space, the jeepney is an emblem of Philippine roadways, interrupting the monotony of cars and buses. More importantly, it is the most affordable and accessible mode of public transit for commuters. Each vehicle can accommodate up to 20 passengers and costs only 16 cents for a 5-kilometer journey. However, this transport sector has been affected also by the pandemic.
In normal times, before the pandemic overcrowded jeepneys clog the capital and provincial roads, with passengers hanging out the back and even some riding on the roof. Jose Mari Taladua has been a driver for a decade and he recalls his struggles as the pandemic surged in the year 2019.
Jeepneys and COVID-19
According to him, the first challenge is to address capacity on public transport to maintain safe distancing requirements. Authorities disputed the notion of jeepneys being more vulnerable to transmission of the virus as a basis for the prohibition, pointing out that jeepneys are actually at an advantage because open-air vehicles offer better ventilation. Health experts have warned that reducing gaps between passengers in trains, buses and jeepneys could result in a surge of infections in the country.
“The one-meter social distancing affected us drivers because we cannot operate with full capacity. Due to social distancing, we cannot satisfy the demand of the commuting public.
We have to spend our own money to provide barriers such as plastic sheets to indicating separate passengers and ensure that they may sit at an ample distance from one another.” he said.
Jeepneys and the Government
Next is that jeepney drivers have pushed back against a forced modernization scheme which the government says is needed to bring the iconic vehicles up to modern standards. Drivers and operators are being urged to register new franchises and acquire new jeepney units deemed roadworthy, with less polluting Euro 4 engines. Jeepneys remain a core source of income for hundreds of thousands of families including Jose Mari.
“During a pandemic, transportation should be considered a vital component of society, it should not be phased out. Jeepney drivers, who mainly come from working class backgrounds, have desperately looked to any option to make money, others switched to taxis or other delivery services,” he added.
Lastly, thousands of drivers and operators have lost their mainsources of livelihood amid the coronavirus pandemic. Money meant to subsidizethe transportation sector during the lockdowns did not benefit drivers and operators of public utility vehicles. Jeepney drivers and activists staged protests and transport strikes.
“We, jeepney drivers and their families should not be left to starve and all we want is to provide services to workers and commuters who arehaving difficulty finding vehicles every day due to unreasonable government bans. This is no longer just a matter of our livelihood but of the role of public transportation to help our dying economy,” Taladua added.
In the year 2021, thousands of jeepneys, that serve as inexpensive public transportation throughout the Philippines, were back on the street bringing comfort to businesses and commuters who had been affected by the coronavirus. Now this year, jeepneys operate for 70% capacity and ditched barriers and drivers can now accommodate more passengers. No barriers, more passengers, more income.
In a country where the people mostly rely on public transport, this situation has been a challenge. In the Philippines, the possibility of thetransportation system as a COVID-19 transmission vector is a looming threat that must not be overlooked.
The transportation infrastructure, on the other hand, cannot remain at a standstill as the economy's lifeblood. It must continue, taking into account the need to strike a balance between opening up the economy and safeguarding individuals from a life-threatening disease. Jeepneys remain the backbone of the country’s transport system.
We may be having trouble with our commute today, but consider how our jeepney drivers are battling to make ends meet - its more than sitting behind the wheel.