The government is spending P843 million next year to jumpstart the nationwide implementation of the Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Modernization Program, a lawmaker said on Saturday.
The initial funding for the program, officially launched only in June this year, has been included in the 2018 budget of the Department of Transportation (DOTr), according to Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, a member of the House appropriations committee.
“It is a highly constructive program overall. The government is basically stepping in to assure the public a better way to commute in the years ahead, while giving PUV operators and drivers the opportunity to upgrade their vehicles,” Pimentel said.
The lawmaker stressed that the operation of PUVs on public roads is a privilege granted by the government.
“This is why we have a franchising system. Those who are in the business of running PUVs have to live up to higher operating standards to ensure that commuters are safely, efficiently and conveniently transferred,” Pimentel said.
The modernization program is also expected to help drive jobs creation in the automotive industry, a key sector of the economy, Pimentel, also a member of the House transportation committee, pointed out.
“There’s also no question the shift to low-emission vehicles will help reduce pollutants and improve air quality in a big way,” he added.
Under the program, all PUVs that are more than 15 years old will be phased out and replaced with new models equipped with automated fare collection systems, digital security and dashboard cameras, Wi-Fi Internet connectivity, GPS tracking devices and speed limiters.
A combined P2.5-billion special financing plan from two state-run banks will extend low-cost loans to enable PUV operators and drivers to acquire the newly designed passenger buses, vans and jeepneys.
The new PUVs will run either on Euro 4 compliant diesel engines that discharge 68 percent less particulate matter, 57 percent less nitrogen oxides and 50 percent less carbon monoxide, or on electric batteries that have zero exhaust gas emissions.
The modernization program also reforms the franchising system to strengthen control over and regulation of PUVs.
Fewer new franchises will be issued to PUV operators and drivers who will be compelled to organize themselves into cooperatives or firms to build up accountability, enforcement and compliance.
In the case of jeepneys, for instance, each operator must have a minimum of 10 units to obtain a single franchise. Thus, drivers running their own units will have to consolidate themselves into groups of at least 10 members to get a franchise.
The DOTr is also expected to draw up new PUV routes in consultation with local government units.
An academy will also help re-educate PUV operators and drivers on basic road discipline, courtesy and safety.
The modernization program has become controversial owing to the strong opposition of militant jeepney operators and drivers grouped under PISTON.
PISTON has vowed to stage monthly transport strikes, unless they are granted a dialogue with President Rodrigo Duterte.
In response, the President has warned that the PUVs of defiant operators and drivers will be towed away.