The Battle for Clean Air

The Battle for Clean Air
Why is U.P. so lenient with smoke-belching jeeps? Because if it isn’t, the jeeps will riot

Three hundred is a very special number. It was the number of Spartans that fought the Persians. It’s the maximum number of points you can score when bowling. Believe it or not, it’s also the number of jeeps that have permits to enter U.P. Diliman—round about.

It’s no wonder that the air can get a little filthy now and then: jeeps aren’t the most environmentally-friendly vehicles. Based on observation, one out of every fifteen jeeps emit visible smoke within U.P. A simple estimate may mean that around twenty jeeps in UP smoke belch on a daily basis.

Non-abidance Abidance

Number coding, among other regulations, are in place, but that doesn’t solve the problem. The UPDP (U.P. Diliman Police) are allowed to issue tickets but have no jurisdiction over the trial. They can’t be as efficient if they’re not entirely sure the person they caught will pay up. Red tape and file transfer costs get in the way. The Department of Community Relations, the office directly in charge of jeeps, was even abolished at some point; it wasn’t reinstated until July 1 this year, and not all the files and cases have been transferred just yet. The bureaucratic costs of the system are still very high, but our contact says that it will all smoothen out within a year.

Soot Be Told: A commuter covers his face from vehicular smoke

The campus abides by the QC rules when it comes to smoke belching. Basic vehicle requirements with the LTO are a must. The U.P. permit raises several secondary requirements though. First, the jeep must undergo a motor inspection near the College of Engineering. Second, it has to undergo a second emission test free of charge. The gasses being measured are HC, CO, and NO, each one with specific harmful effects. Lastly, the driver of the jeep must undergo a drug test. The permits only last for a year before they have to be renewed. Some jeeps deteriorate before a year and cough up smoke. Daily use—among other things—really has its toll.

U.P. is well aware of the environmental costs though and implements its three hundred quota very strictly. It raffles out the quota to all jeepney operators via a raffle system. That explains why jeepney waiting lines tend to be really long or why Toki jeeps are such rare commodities. Quotas create artificial scarcity. Just think about the waiting time as your personal contribution to the environment.

Green Means Money

Complying with U.P. standards is also very costly. Oil change, injection pump replacements, and other emission reducing procedures can cost anywhere from P1000 to P3000, a heavy price for a jeepney operator. Add that to the opportunity cost of one days’ worth of earnings when the jeep in the repair shop. That amounts to around two to three thousand pesos. The total cost of a repair then would be around P3000 to P6000. Corporal Marquina from the Office of Community Affairs mentions that some of the jeeps in U.P. date back to the 1980’s and their maintenance costs are very high.

Start-up costs are also very high. The cost of owning a route that passes through U.P. is around P100,ooo. After paying the lump sum however, the operator can add as many jeeps to the route as long as the system stays within the 300-jeep quota. High start-up costs prevent market entry. This is why the jeepney operations within campus is actually a monopoly. The Pantranco route, for example, is owned by a single entity. He just happens to own ninety jeeps and had P100k to enter the market.

No to the Future

The system has thought up of alternatives however, such as the electronic jeep and the monorail system. But the costs of these will be borne heavily by the jeep sector, which will go out of business.

All Bark, No Bite: Though this sign articulates U.P.’s stand quite clearly, in practice, it is a lot more lax

In fact, the Philcoa jeepney drivers have more than once marched to the office of the Vice-chancellor for Community Affairs to oppose the monorail. Regardless, the monorail system is about to be set-up. Ground-breaking has already begun in the College of Fine Arts. Though the plans have been trimmed down to a simple CHED to OCA route, our contact says that once the plans have begun, there’s no stopping expansion.

Electronic jeeps have also been proposed as an alternative. The batteries don’t last for more than a day and they aren’t as fast as the normal jeep, but they don’t emit harmful emissions either. The campus can also hire the same drivers for the electronic jeeps to maintain their employment. The cost then will be borne by the monopolistic jeep operators.

For us students though, we still have to wait and see how the price for using these alternatives will affect us. We might be better or worse off, depending on the relative change in commuting costs. It might be safe to assume that it’ll be cheaper, because if the monorail was a lot more expensive than the jeep, it wouldn’t pose as a business threat.

The environment is vital to U.P., but even if staying clean has its benefits, these benefits must always be placed side-by-side with the costs. The question becomes: are we willing to pay these costs?


Photos by Chiara Buergo

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