Hontiveros: Commuters need clean, working washrooms amid COVID-19 outbreak

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Hontiveros: Commuters need clean, working washrooms amid COVID-19 outbreak
File photo shows commuters lining up to squeeze into a public utility jeepney: a common sight in the Metro.
AFP / Jam Sta. Rosa

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday called on the Department of Transportation on Wednesday to ensure commuter safety amid the worsening novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation in the country. 

Hontiveros said transport terminals and train stations should have working washrooms. 

"The working and commuting public's need to wash their hands frequently with soap and water is now a matter of public health," she said.

"The risk is high for jeepney and bus drivers, and those who man our train stations. Every day, they are exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of people," Hontiveros said.

"DOTr and our transport operators should come up with a mechanism to ensure that our drivers and conductors have access to these protective gear."

'Public transport is a health issue'

She said that  "comfort rooms in our transport terminals should be working and disinfected daily" and should have clean lavatories with ample soap and water.

"Public transport is a public health issue. We need to provide our commuters with clean, efficient, and safe public transport and public spaces. Otherwise, we are putting them at a higher risk to contract the virus."

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board at a media briefing also on Wedneday urged public utility vehicle (PUV) operators to avoid overcrowding to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Buses and mini-buses in Metro Manila are often packed beyond capacity, with passengers standing in the aisles. Passengers on jeepneys, meanwhile, sit in cramped rows of eight to ten people each.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday morning signed Proclamation 922 declaring a state of public health emergency throughout the country amid the worsening scare. 

"Marami pa rin sa atin ang kailangan pumasok araw-araw. (Many of us still need to go to work daily.) The working and commuting public need access to working lavatories in our train and transport stations," the senator, who has also been urging employers to allow remote work, said Wednesday.

"For those na imposible ang sinasabing social distancing, kailangan natin i-minimize ang risk."

(For those for whom social distancing is impossible, we need to minimize their risk)

For his part, LTFRB chairman Martin Delgra at the briefing said, “We follow the protocol of the [World Health Organization], as well as the DOH as regards to taking any PUV for that reason (social distancing). I know, especially for buses, it’s quite crowded inside and we would like to address that by calling the attention of the operators."

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes also slammed the emphasis on social distancing, saying this would not work given the state of public transportation in the country. 

"Kaya tayo bulnerable lalo sa sakit eh. Sistema ang problema," he tweeted. 

(This is why we are more vulnerable to disease. The system is the problem)

According to the LTFRB, bus drivers would no longer be allowed to let an excess number of passengers board to avoid overcrowding in buses to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease.

The LTFRB also previously required PUV drivers and conductors to wear face masks and for operators of transport terminals to provide commuters with hand sanitizer.

Mass transport crisis

In October, Reyes was among those who tagged the commuting situation in the Metro as a mass transport crisis after the three train systems broke down in the same week. 

Cramped transportation systems are not an uncommon sight in Metro Manila. 

Each day sees 440,000 cars slither along the capital’s main thoroughfare, far exceeding EDSA’s carrying capacity of 220,000.

Trains, buses and jeeps alike see thousands of commuters each day pressed up against each other with hardly any space to breathe. 

According to the World Population Review, Metro Manila holds the title of the world’s most densely populated city with 42,857 people per square kilometer, good for 111,002 people per square mile.

In an earlier interview with Philstar.com, Public Transport and Mobility Advocate Robert Siy said, "Today, the bulk of people are moving around using buses, jeepneys, UV Express."

"One action which I’ve been pushing for for a long time is to increase the capacity of our road transport services," he said. 


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