By Melo M. Acuña

With the government’s decision to implement a modified enhanced community quarantine in densely populated National Capital Region, Laguna and Cebu City by Saturday, May 16, and the economy slowly but surely on its way to reopening, jeepney drivers and operators and bus companies have begun asking what’s in store for them and their families.

Alex Yague, executive director of the Provincial Bus Operators Association of the Philippines, said that with the new standards up for implementation, their revenues would suddenly be cut by half.

Provincial Bus Operators Association of the Philippines Executive Director Alex Yague

“The social distancing and other Covid-19 preventive measures will mean more expenses and with limited trips and passengers cut by half, operations may no longer be viable,” he said at Wednesday Roundtable @ Lido (Virtual Edition).

He said about 1,000 buses were bought through loans from banks and other institutions. With limited trips, operators do not have the capacity to pay amortizations.

A brand-new bus costs an average of P8 million, he said.

Fleet operators employ at least 14,000 drivers and an equal number of conductors, inspectors, mechanics and other workers. Drivers and other transport workers were denied of the government’s Social Amelioration Program because they are regular employees, he said.

“Most of our drivers and conductors are on ‘no trip-no pay’ arrangement and with employers advancing their 13th month pay as well as sick leaves, the government should consider the plight of our workers, too,” Yague said.

Fejodap President Zenaida Maranan

Zenaida Maranan, president of the Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines, said she was alarmed of the possibility they would no longer be allowed to ply their routes when the quarantine restrictions are lifted, because of the preference for “modernized” jeepneys.

“Most of our drivers and operators have not received the needed assistance from the national government. We have heard of accounts of preferential treatment extended to allies of the sitting city, town or barangay officials,” she added.

Mody Floranda of the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide or Piston, said his group didn’t mind the additional expenses expected with the basic minimum health standards that would be required of public transport. He said his members would manage the additional costs, but should be allowed to ply their routes for them to earn their keep.

“We have been told only a few of us could resume trips and that we should apply for special permits from the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and only a few would be allowed to resume operations,” he said.

Piston Chairman Mody Floranda

He echoed Maranan’s call for the immediate and equal distribution of benefits from the national government.

“It we are to cut passengers by 50 percent, may we ask the government to pay the remaining 50 percent of our boundary?” Floranda asked.

Maranan and Floranda said their groups have some 100,000 members nationwide.

Former LTFRB chairman and transportation assistant secretary Alberto Suansing said the cash aid distribution was the responsibility of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and not the Department of Transportation.

Transportation department special assistant Alberto Suansing

“Our job is to submit the list to the DSWD for them to appropriate funds for the beneficiaries,” said Suansing, who is a special assistant to Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade.

He said there would be changes in the routes of public transport, which would supersede existing franchises.

“The government wants to streamline the transport sector through the route rationalization to make transport industry more viable,” Suansing said during the Wednesday forum.