Thousands of small public utility jeepney (PUJ) drivers have lost as much as Php78,000 each from three months of mass transport suspensions since the lockdown. The government has been insensitive and stingy assistance has pushed jeepney drivers and their families into poverty, said the group. Their troubles risk becoming permanent with the government exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to keep small drivers and operators off the road to fast-track its jeepney phaseout program.
The Duterte administration suspended mass transport, including jeepneys, when it declared enhanced community quarantines (ECQ) in Luzon then in other parts of the country in mid-March. Quarantine measures have since eased to general community quarantine (GCQ) in many areas and public transport has resumed in phases. The first phase started in June 1 and the second is due to begin on June 22. Jeepneys, however, will still remain prohibited.
PUJ drivers have suffered lost incomes for over three months already, IBON said. Among them are the estimated 55,000-70,000 jeepney drivers in Metro Manila. For instance, before the ECQ, drivers plying the MCU-Rotonda via Taft route earned an average of Php1,000 per day after a 12-hour shift, net of boundary and fuel expenses.
Jeepney drivers on this route usually worked six days a week. This means that, to date, they have lost some 78 working days over the past 3 months or 13 weeks of suspended mass transport. This translates to a total net income loss of Php78,000 or Php26,000 per month of lockdown, said IBON. Out of work jeepney drivers lose Income with each passing day of transport suspension.
The group stressed that government assistance has been far from enough to make up for these lost incomes. The social welfare department reports only 36,200 jeepney drivers getting cash aid in the past three months. Even then, some jeepney drivers only received one tranche of the Php5,000-8,000 of social amelioration and it remains unclear if they will even get the second tranche.
Many small jeepney drivers and operators could become permanently out of work, particularly in Metro Manila, IBON said. Transport officials are using the mass transport suspension to force the phaseout of traditional jeepneys by only allowing modernized jeepneys to run.
Under the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB)’s Memo Circular 2020-017 on public transport guidelines in GCQ areas, only modernized jeepneys and traditional jeepneys under a corporation or cooperative are allowed to operate. This leaves out small jeepney operators and drivers who, unlike big or corporate fleet operators, can ill-afford the costly Php1.6–2.2 million modernized units, or steep fees and requirements to form a cooperative. They are even less able after three months of lost incomes and depleted savings, if any.
IBON said that the livelihoods of thousands of small jeepney drivers and operators are at stake. Instead of putting corporate interests first and pushing its phaseout program, the government should give immediate cash assistance to drivers and their families who have suffered three months of lost incomes. It should also support drivers and operators in upgrading or replacing their units to meet safety, health and environmental standards.