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Daily Archives: February 20, 2014

From FX to UV Express – a story of evolution

For those not familiar with its evolution, the UV Express has an interesting history. It started as a contracted taxi service utilizing the new Asian Utility Vehicle (AUV) model released by Toyota that they called the FX (The same model is known as the Kijang in Indonesia.). I can say that I witnessed the birth of FX services in the 1990s when taxis were approached by commuters having common destinations. I was among those who were desperate enough to get home and tired of getting into those long lines of people waiting for jeepneys in Cubao. The lines were not all that bad though as it used to be worse when people had to box out one another to board a jeepney as they arrived near Ali Mall.

Taxis had the advantage of not having fixed routes so they could bypass congested road sections. They could take alternate routes that despite covering longer distances, incurred shorter travel times. Passengers negotiated with the drivers for a common destination and a fare that’s typically higher than what would be charged if the meter was used. I remember that there were times when passengers (like me) negotiated with the driver with the dare to run the meter just to prove that he’d be better off with the money we would be paying rather than wait for regular fares. Of course, this practice of negotiating was illegal as taxis in Metro Manila were metered. But passengers were quick to help out the cabbie in case he gets caught, with everyone claiming that he or she knew the others and that they were traveling as a group. One use of a running meter was that they were a group paying regular fare.

Taxi operators and drivers quickly caught on to the idea and many eventually became enterprising. These were mostly FX drivers who could carry 5 to 7 passengers depending on the seat configuration for the vehicles. Toyota took full advantage of government incentives for AUVs by introducing what was claimed to be 10 seater vehicles, maximizing space at the middle and rear to seat a total of 8 people in addition to 2 in the front. This also translated into a maximization of revenue per load of 10 people and soon, “standard” fares were being established for certain routes like Cubao-Cainta Junction, which I remember cost 20PhP per person regardless of whether you were alighting before Cainta Junction. Eventually, issues were raised regarding their operations as contracted vehicles as they were still classified as metered taxis and should have not refused single or few passengers. There were also issues regarding their competing directly with jeepneys as some FX plied routes similar to jeepneys especially when traffic was more manageable. Eventually, the DOTC and the LTFRB moved to regulate this emergent transport service and formalized (fixed) routes and franchises rather than retain their flexibilities like taxis. In effect they became express shuttle services and fares and rules were also set accordingly, also to protect the interests of the riding public.

IMG07705-20140217-1133Toyota Revo AUV UV Express vehicle plying the Pasig-Ayala Center route

It became known as Garage to Terminal (GT) Express during the last administration. There was a joke then that the term used was according to the nickname of the then Chairman of the LTFRB. It’s name again was changed into Utility Vehicle (UV) Express after the change in administration.

IMG04064-20120824-0824Nissan Urvan van UV Express at the Puregold at the NLEX Valenzuela Exit

UV Express now proliferate around Mega Manila and come in different vehicle types and sizes. Most are AUV’s like the Toyota Revo, Isuzu Crosswind or Mitsubishi Adventure. There are also vans like the Toyota Hi-Ace and Nissan Urvan. But there are also custom made vehicles like those utilizing the Mitsubishi L300 prime mover and fitted with a cab that seats 14 to 16 passengers. The latter types have capacities similar to jeepneys and airconditioning is somewhat weaker compared to the legit AUVs and vans. I think the UV Express vehicles are here to stay and they do serve a certain segment of commuters. However, while I also think their numbers are excessive (and government through the LTFRB needs to address this) there is really not much to argue about if more efficient and higher capacity and good quality transit systems cannot be realized in our cities. People deserve options for commuting and for those taking public transport, these UV Express services provide good quality transport that they are willing to pay for. Many of these services might just meet a natural death or decline once a better transport system is in place along main corridors but that seems a long way off from now given continued failures in mass transit project implementation.