Commuters suffer as many kings of the road relinquish crown
(Fourth of a series)
Rising fuel prices have led to some public transport operators, including drivers of the ubiquitous jeepney—a preferred mode of mobility for many Filipinos due to cheaper fares—to park their vehicles to avoid financial losses, and thus aggravating the ongoing commuters’ crisis.
Hyacenth Bendaña of transport advocacy group Move As One Coalition, in an interview with the Inquirer, explained that the commuting public has been struggling with fewer jeepneys plying the roads. This has caused a burden to many Filipinos who rely on public transportation to travel between their homes and places of work or other locations.
The confluence of the increasing mobility as the economy reopens and the lack of jeepneys to meet the demand has underlined the difficulties in the local transport sector which was temporarily put on hold by the pandemic.
Bendaña said that some passengers now have to wait for over three hours just to get a ride.
Social media has also been swamped with photos and videos of long queues at bus and train stations amid the shortage of jeepney drivers.
Mody Floranda, national president of Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston), told the Inquirer that about 20 percent of the estimated 900,000 jeepney drivers in the country have stopped plying their routes because they don’t make enough money to feed their families due to high fuel prices.
Some of them have resorted to working as private family drivers, vendors of fruit or rice cakes or carpenters, Floranda said, while others went back to farming in their home provinces. The nonoperating jeepneys, meanwhile, are left idle.
The Piston official said that the daily take-home pay of the jeepney drivers has declined to an average of P300 from around P700 to P1,000 prior to the pandemic.
The Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board approved on June 8 a P1 jeepney fare hike as a relief after diesel price climbed by P6.55 that week. Since June 9, the P10 minimum fare has been effective in Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Region 4.
HSBC Global Research, in a recent report, said that raising fares was “necessary” as it “directly benefits” the jeepney drivers and operators.
However, the fare hike was still not sufficient to cover the expensive cost of fuel as prices have been increasing more rapidly, Floranda lamented.
Since the fare hike earlier this month, diesel prices have already climbed by a total of P7.4 per liter. It has seen a cumulative upward price adjustment of P44.25 as of June 21. Year-to-date, gasoline and kerosine prices have a net increase of P29.50 and P39.65 per liter, respectively.
Floranda estimated that P200 was added to daily earnings of the drivers due to fare hike but it was virtually nothing as fuel expenses were up by about P400 to P1,700 per day on average. Piston noted that diesel prices range from P87 to P100 per liter now.
“The fare hike only sparked a little hope, which is now gone,” he said in Filipino.
For taxi drivers, some of them left their jobs due to the pandemic but the higher fuel costs drove more away, said Jesus “Bong” Suntay, president of the Philippine National Taxi Operators Association.
“Most of the drivers either went back to the province, became family drivers, or are looking for other gainful employment,” he told the Inquirer.
Meanwhile, Alex Yague, executive director of the Provincial Bus Operators’ Association of the Philippines, recently told the Senate energy committee that only 20 to 30 percent of the provincial buses were operating given the current situation.
Piston said that suspending excise tax on fuel to bring down prices could encourage more drivers to return to the roads and serve the daily commuters.
(To be concluded)
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