Bus and jeepney groups often demand for an increase in the fares every time there is an increase in the prices of fuel. The latest one is mentioned in this article via Rappler, where a jeepney group is to hold a protest caravan as they seek a discount on diesel for all public utility vehicles. The reaction from readers is an overwhelming “Annoyed.” And rightly so because while these protests appear to be noble and are often linked by jeepney groups to petitions for fare hike increases (i.e., asking for fare increases if they cannot be given fuel or petroleum product discounts), closer scrutiny of operating costs will reveal flaws in their arguments for fare hikes and discounts. These same flaws also reveal why government agencies charged with public transport franchising and regulation (i.e., DOTC and LTFRB) should have the data and tools for a fair assessment of fares (pun intended).
Data from field surveys conducted quite recently (NCTS, 2012) show us that jeepneys typically average around 3 to 4 km/L on diesel fuel. This is a very low value that is comparable to the income from passengers for one trip over a distance of say 4 km. A fully-loaded jeepney with an average of 20 passengers (9 on each bench plus 2 beside the driver) operating a 4-km route will 160 pesos. However, there are limited reliable information or data on other costs such as maintenance costs and other items including “boundary” and “dispatching.” The boundary is basically a rental fee for the use of the vehicle while jeepney groups charge a fee for dispatching vehicles from the terminal or stop. In a day’s operation, such costs could easily accumulate into a significant total that would eat up a day’s income, usually leaving the driver with just enough to bring home to his family.
This brings us back to the argument against transport being treated as livelihood rather than a service. Many operators or owners of public utility vehicles, whether they have one or more units, tend to scrimp on the maintenance of their vehicles. Poor maintenance manifests in the form of smoke-belching and frequent breakdowns. While smoke-belching contributes to the deterioration of the environment and health costs, breakdowns often lead to road crashes (e.g., tires flying off, problems with brakes, etc.) like the recent bus crash in the Mountain Province where faulty breaks were blamed for the crash.
Jeepney groups often raise issues on the plight of small operators who are usually the drivers of the jeepneys themselves. Many of these people should not even be operating or driving jeepneys in the first place because safe and efficient service is not their priority. Service is second only to the desire to generate income, to earn a living, which makes them drive the way they currently do (i.e., recklessly) and improperly and haphazardly maintain their vehicles. There is seldom serious talk and little done to protect the interests of people who take public transport. These are the same people who are often shortchanged with the poor quality of public transport in our cities and have long suffered for this. Let us hope that the LTFRB will be guided as they decide on this matter of fares and furthermore for the agency to study the state of road public transport franchising in order to weed out people and groups who do not deserve to be operators. I believe there is more than enough data or evidence against such operators if the LTFRB truly wants to reform the system.