The Fate Of The Kings Of The Road

Philippine jeepneys are back on the street, but for how long?

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George Buid
George Buidhttp://www.georgebuid.com/
An independent photojournalist of the Philippines capturing life as it passes by. He contributes to different news outlet and press publications.

PHILIPPINES. Manila. The transportation sector has been one of the most affected industries during the coronavirus pandemic. The public utility jeeps (PUJ), or jeepneys, are among the many business casualties of the COVID-19 lockdown. Operators have lost their livelihoods since the start of the quarantine in March 2020.

The traditional Philippine jeepney is also called the king of the road in the Philippines.
Image by George Buid ©2018

Stranded without income. The lockdown left the local road kings without a way to make money. Driving is the only means of making a living for many Philippine jeepney operators. A driver was reduced to begging on 11 April. City authorities detained him after seeing him plead for money in the streets. Transcontinental Times returned on 19 April and spoke with the former operator turned beggar. Mang Elvie, the jeepney driver who had been detained for beseeching money, said he´s in a bad situation. He and many other drivers don’t know what to do for money. The local government has offered no financial aid or food packs.  He can’t go back to Occidental Mindoro, where he lives, because of the lockdown. Many of the displaced drivers only receive help from their neighbors or from those passing by and feel motivated to drop a coin into an upturned hat for charity. Sadly, it´s not enough for the nine of them currently living at the jeepney terminal.

Jeepney driver begging on the street.
A jeepney driver begging at the side of the road.
Image by George Buid ©2020
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The government finally allowed jeepneys to resume operations. After three months, the government decided to allow the jeepneys to operate as of 3 July. The Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB), released the guidelines for roadworthy vehicles with Memorandum Circular 2020-026 under the general community quarantine. Each driver has to download their own QR codes from the LTFRB website. Each vehicle has to follow special health protocols. At present, the government is only allowing 49 jeepney routes to resume. A group of drivers told Transcontinental Times that the government succeeded in phasing out the traditional jeepneys. Since May 2017, the government planned to replace the traditional conveyance with more modernized jeepneys. The updated vehicles run on Euro 4-compliant diesel engines or as electric vehicles.

The last hurrah for the road kings? Most of the Philippine jeepneys running since 6 July are doing so with shorter routes. The operators are following the health protocols established to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, the group of drivers who work the Boni Ave. to Stop and Shop route, which includes Mang Elvie, are dismayed. They said that when their franchise expired on 31 Dec., the government wouldn´t allow them to renew. This could be a sign of the times and the final days of the traditional jeepneys.

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