The latest attempt to remove smoke-belching traffic-clogging old jeepneys from the nations gridlocked streets are causing controversy.
Talk of a “jeepney phaseout” has been heard for decades, and now a new “jeepney modernisation” scheme is ruffling feathers.
Jeepney operators and drivers say the measure is just an attempt to force small transport operators out of business and create a lucrative opening for large conglomerates.
Last month, several transport groups took to the streets to protest against the plan, and similar demonstrations are planned for the coming days.
The jeepney, which traces its roots to the US Willys jeep used during World War Two, remains the main form of transport for millions of Filipinos.
Despite their obvious limitations, the jeepney has become a symbol of Filipino creativity and ingenuity, beloved of many.
But critics say the jeepney has become a tarnished icon that actually symbolises the country’s technological backwardness and inability to adapt to changing times.
What were once known fondly as the “Kings of the Road” are now more often blamed for clogging the roads, compounding the dismal traffic problem and dirtying the city’s air.
Reckless jeepney drivers are also blamed for increasing road accidents in the country. At night, for example, some drivers don’t even bother to switch on their headlights.
George San Mateo, the national president of a militant transport group, said the planned “jeepney phaseout” would affect at least 162,500 jeepney drivers and 45,000 operators.
Rather than making a business out of modernisation, he said the government should extend support to drivers and operators to allow them to rehabilitate their ageing units.
The Philippine Star recently ran an editorial recently saying the campaign of the Duterte administration to phase out jeepneys “will end up as another exercise in futility unless concerns are sufficiently addressed.
“One is livelihood for the drivers who will be displaced as well as the operators, most of whom are small-scale transport owners,” the editorial said.
It said that so far the government has not come up with an alternative to the jeepney. The editorial concluded: “More buses must be fielded and the light rail and commuter train services substantially upgraded if the administration wants the jeepney phaseout to enjoy mass support.
“Unless these concerns are addressed, the latest effort to phase out jeepneys will go the way of previous efforts — straight to the wastebasket.”