Youth groups join clamor vs public transport policy

Youth groups join clamor vs public transport policy

By Jomel R. Paguian

VARIOUS youth groups have voiced their opposition to the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), expressing solidarity with the plans of jeepney drivers and operators to wage more strikes this month.

In an interview with BusinessWorld, youth coalition Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK) national coordinator John Lazaro said support for drivers and operators will continue as long as the government proceeds with its modernization policy, which is claimed to have failed in consulting the transport sector.

“If the government continues to make policies that actively harm the livelihood of the working class, then we have a duty to stand by them,” he said.

Meanwhile, 111 Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) officials throughout the country signed a year-end unity statement condemning the PUVMP and its franchise consolidation deadline, encouraging the youth to advocate for the preservation of the livelihoods and rights of public transport workers.

“We, the undersigned members of the Sangguniang Kabataan, stand in solidarity with our fellow Filipinos — especially the 200,000 jeepney drivers and operators — whose livelihoods are a stake due to the looming Dec. 31 franchise consolidation deadline,” read part of the statement.

Kabataan Partylist national executive vice president Renee Louise Co, spearheading the unity statement, told BusinessWorld that the group currently receives additional signatories from more SK officials.

For SPARK, Mr. Lazaro added that the phaseout of unconsolidated public utility jeepneys (PUJs) will affect not just the livelihood of the transport workers but also the situation of students who rely on public transport.

“When the livelihood of PUJ drivers is affected, our livelihood, our right to education and learning are also at risk,” he said in Filipino. “We are connected to every move of our workers; hence, we support them in their strikes”

Days before the New Year, the Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) issued new guidelines permitting unconsolidated public utility vehicles (PUVs) to operate until Jan. 31 — a month-long grace period beyond the Dec. 31, 2023 consolidation deadline.

The Department of Transportation (DoTr) on Monday said only 40% of jeepneys in Metro Manila have consolidated their franchises under the PUVMP. Nationwide, the numbers reached approximately 70%.

The year-end deadline for the application for consolidation pushed through despite opposition from transport groups and a pending Supreme Court petition.

Mr. Lazaro argued that the grace period is insufficient to address their demands as no amendments to the franchise consolidation component of the PUVMP have been made.

In a separate interview on the sidelines of a year-end protest against franchise consolidation under the PUVMP in Manila last week, members of the Kabataan Partylist declared opposition to the modernization plan.

“The Kabataan Party supports the strikes because the struggles of drivers are also the struggles of commuters,” said Party member Carmela Aldip in Filipino. “Fare increases may occur because of the program which adds difficulty for students who depend on their parents.”

Progressive-leaning think tank IBON Foundation last month said that jeepney fares could surge up to fivefold, attributing it to the percentage of consolidated public utility vehicles nationwide.