Local transport operators who invested in UV Express vans were recently disappointed to learn that their vehicles cannot be granted franchises under the government’s Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Plan (PUVMP).
The other week, officials of the Land Transportation Regulatory Franchising Board (LTFRB) regional office led its director, Maj. Gen. Antonio Guardiola (Ret.), explained the matter to the operators in a training seminar on the PUVMP and Cooperative Transport Education at the multi-purpose building of Palnab del Sur, Virac.
It may be recalled that in about two years ago, then LTFRB regional director Vladimir Kahulugan urged the same operators to organize into transport cooperatives so that their passenger vans could be given franchises under the PUVMP.
This eventually gave rise to the numerous UV Express vans now plying the routes to northern towns, such as CAPATRASCO and VIRSACAPAN (25 units each for Caramoran and Pandan), CATTRANSCO (20 units for Viga), HAPITRANSCO (15 units for Bagamanoc), PAVATRANSCO (12 units for Panganiban) and BAGITSCO (10 units for Baras and Gigmoto).
A number of new operators secured loans from banks for the purchase of passenger vans which were reported granted special permits by LTFRB V regional office to ply the northern routes.
The problem was that RD Kahulugan took an illegal shortcut under PUVMP by giving such permits, Exequial Longares, national president of the 1 Unified Transport Alliance of the Philippines (1UTAP) claimed.
Under the omnibus guidelines approved by the Department of Transportation in 2017, the UV Express vans could not pass the standards set for the three classes of public utility vehicles covering specific route distances.
Class 1 are 9-12 seater PUVs, good for narrow barangay, municipal or provincial roads with route length of 15 kilometers while Class 2 vehicles, with a maximum seating capacity of 23, have regular jeepney seating but allows passengers to stand during the travel on 35-kilometer routes.
Class 3, on the other hand, are front facing variant like mini-buses and are the required replacement for all UV express vans travelling on routes 60 kilometers and above, with a middle aisle separating four seats.
The DOTr guidelines also provide that no individual entity could be given franchises, only cooperatives.
It is alleged that many local UV Express operators gave money for the release of the special permits to an LTFRB V official who was eventually removed from his post.
These van operators are now in a quandary as to what to do with their investments which could not be given transport franchises, with one already planning to sell two units to interested buyers for family use.
Even the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) Catanduanes field office has expressed apprehension on the issue as its organized transport cooperatives need to include in their Articles of Incorporation the specific business they would engage in, including specific routes.
On the other hand, Governor Joseph Cua said it would be difficult for transport cooperatives to earn enough to pay off amortizations for a P2.9-million loan for a Class 3 PUV, as the current pandemic restrictions limit passenger capacity to just 50 percent.
Manufacturers of the modern PUV versions sell the Class 1 vehicles for P1.95 million, Class 2 vehicles for P2.35 million and Class 3 vehicles for P2.63 million each. The vehicles are mostly made in China, it is claimed.
Some transport operators said that the DOTr is prematurely implementing the program when the local government units in Catanduanes, except for Panganiban town, have yet to submit their own Local Public Transport Plan (LPTRP) as a pre-requisite for the opening of PUV franchises within their jurisdiction.
Under the same guidelines, the LGUs have to conduct route rationalization studies to determine the appropriate mode, quantity and service characteristics of the public transport service in each corridor which will make the routes more responsive to passenger demand and ensure that the hierarchy of roads and modes of transportation are followed.
The PUVMP has devolved the function of route planning to the local government units as they are more versed in the terrain and passenger demand within their respective territorial jurisdiction.
Among the major components of the PUVMP is fleet modernization, with the modern PUV designed to be environment-friendly, safe, secure and convenient with due consideration to our Persons-with-Disabilities (PWDs) passengers.
It also encourages industry consolidation or the strategic merging of smaller transport industry players to form into a consortium either by forming cooperatives or corporations.
The DOTr said the program likewise adopts a Vehicle Useful Life Program which consists of policies and programs that deal with different stages of the vehicle’s useful life. This includes the provision of a Motor Vehicle Type Approval System for new vehicles, maintenance programs and improvement of Motor Vehicle Inspection System and a Scrappage Program for end-of-life vehicles.
In order to soften the impact and assist small operators who will be affected by the PUVMP, a special loan program with Landbank and DBP in which the government grants each a P160,000 subsidy per vehicle, with the operator required to come up with a 5 percent equity for the financing scheme.