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When news came out last year that the Land Transportation and Regulatory Board will phase out jeepneys 15 years or older and replace them with electric-powered vehicles, it was met with mixed reactions. While the authorities explained that the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program was “designed to make public utility vehicles safer, more convenient, more comfortable, and environment-friendly,” transport groups said it’s “anti-poor.”

For car journalist and social media personality James Deakin, however, it’s all about taking the first step. “We have to take the step. So it’s not about, ‘Can we solve this 100%? No? Then we won’t try.’ It’s about saying, ‘Do we have an incremental gain?’ If the incremental gain is big enough, then it’s a program worth pursuing,” he said in his keynote speech during De La Salle University (DLSU) Eco Car Team’s University Launch last January 26.

Deakin said the damage done to the environment cannot be ignored anymore. The gravity of climate change, as seen in the natural disasters that hit the country and the world, calls for immediate action. “This is our time now to make a stand. This is our time now to change,” he said. When a La Salle alumnus and former member of the DLSU Eco Car Team asked about the waste that will be generated from phasing out old jeepneys, he suggested “dismantling the jeepneys slowly and responsibly recycling” the pieces of metal, plastic, and engine parts. He said air quality is also the great equalizer.

Safety is also another compelling reason for the big move. Most jeepneys are not designed like modern cars with built-in shock absorbers, so when there’s no shock-absorber even in a low-impact accident, it can be fatal.

Deakin also have high hopes that the program can be a chance for Filipino engineers to take center stage. “Some say there’s crisis with the modernization, but the opportunity now for electrifying, for local engineers to be a part of this very big revolutionary modernization is here,” he said. 

Despite the promising potential he sees in the modernization program, Deakin clarified that there are aspects of the program the government should attend to.

“I’m certainly not a speaker for the government. I’m not jumping up and down and saying the government is perfect. They got a lot of things they need to correct about the program as well, because there are some things that are of genuine concern,” he said.

He cited the implementation, which “people are very scared about.” Removing jeepneys on the road, no matter how slow, can affect millions of public commuters. The automotive enthusiast also mentioned the subsidies, a major concern and the one cause of resistance from transport groups. Initial government estimates the modern jeeps would cost P1.2 million to P1.6 million each. Although a subsidy of P28,000 for each vehicle and the rest would be secured through loans from government banks at an interest rate of six percent, the price tag still looks hefty for over 200,000 jeepney drivers.

The change will hurt, according to Deakin. There will be some casualties and very big sectors will be affected, but something has to be done. “This is where people have to make tough decisions. The fork in the road is here. Where are we gonna go? It starts by being green,” he said. 

Photo by Madel Crudo

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