Photo dated March 16, the day before the implementation of enhanced community quarantine, shows throngs of commuters struggling to find a ride home in the wake of the suspension of much of public transportation.
The STAR/Edd Gumban
Fuel subsidies, new bus system among DOTr plans for 'new normal' transportation
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - May 25, 2020 - 5:46pm

MANILA, Philippines — Besides the current health and safety protocols for public vehicles, the transportation department disclosed its plans of subsidizing fuel and an overhaul of the current buses plying the Metro's main thoroughfare included in its stimulus package for public transportation as part of its novel coronavirus (COVID-19) response. 

Throughout the past few weeks, transport planners, advocates and commuters have been calling on the government to address what they called a looming second wave caused by a long decrepit public transportation system that could also cost the country billions in the COVID-19 outbreak, which they called a 'golden opportunity' to reform mass transportation. 

LIFE AFTER LOCKDOWN: Limited operations for land transport as more Filipinos hit the road

Senators, too, have acknowledged that public transportation as it stands will not be able to accommodate the thousands of commuters slated to troop back to work in areas graduated to general community quarantine, while data by the Japan International Cooperation Agency have shown that just 12% of households in the National Capital Region have access to private vehicles, while a staggering 78% of total daily trips rely on public transportation.

According to a series of statements issued by the Move as One coalition—which claims membership by some 130 organizations and 10,000 Filipinos—the proposal by DOTr would put buses in a dedicated median lane.

"The system will rationalize the bus routes in high volume corridors in Metro Manila, especially EDSA," the coalition said in a statement sent to reporters. 

At a webinar hosted by the COVID-19 Action Network (CAN) Philippines and the Move as One coalition, the department listed its initiatives for transportation in the new normal, including: 

Roads:

  • Health, safety protocols for PUVs
  • Hatid Estudyante Program
  • Free rides for frontliners
  • Promotion of active transport
  • EDSA bus transformation (route rationalization, bus operations consolidation, dedicated bus lanes, automated fare collection)
  • Stimulus package (fuel subsidy) for public transportation.

Rail

  • Health, safety protocols for trains
  • Block system dispatch of train and bus augmentation
  • Expansion of networks and stations

Of the DOTr's bus system revamp, Jedd Ugay, spokesperson of commuter group AltMobility PH said: “These plans will serve commuters well under a service contract arrangement."

"The service contract model, where government pays the operators and drivers a per kilometer fee to run the routes, which removes dependency on "boundary" revenues and requires compliance to performance standards specified under these contracts will make public transport service quality-oriented," he added.

In an earlier open letter, AltMobility PH said that as it stands, the current transportation options for health workers, which largely involves shuttles, do not sufficiently meet the existing demand. 

The Move as One Coalition also earlier appealed to the national government to "rescue and reform the public transport industry" with a proposed P110-billion stimulus fund.

READ: Coalition proposes P110 billion for 'secure' post-lockdown public transport

This was echoed by transportation strategy and innovation specialist Benjie de la Peña, who in a statement called for the service contracting of PUVs, where the government pays the operators and drivers directly to run their routes. 

“This would ensure the availability and safety of public transport under this crisis. Furthermore, this eliminates the temptation of overloading PUVs and running colorum vehicles,” he said. 

Even before the coronavirus restricted movement and transportation in the country, labor and transport unions in the Philippines were tagging the situation as a crisis as long waits and malfunctions were a staple in the lives of commuters. 

According to the coalition's estimates, the collective benefits of the proposed spending package could add up to P373 billion.
Release / #MoveAsOne Coalition

Despite this, though, all but three of Metro Manila's local chief executives are in favor of graduating the region from modified enhanced community quarantine to general community quarantine by June, the region's council chairman said Monday. 

Researchers from the University of the Philippines have warned the government that prematurely forcing the re-opening of the economy—especially without mass testing, which the Palace has said it would leave to the private sector instead—would lead to as many as 24,000 new COVID-19 cases and 1,700 deaths by June. 

The Philippines has so far reported 14,319 cases, with 873 deaths as of the health department's latest tally on Monday afternoon.  

“This crisis has brought us together to look at the problem of transportation in the country. It is really important that citizens have a voice in the plans of the government. We hope that we can continue this dialogue and seek out what is best for the country and for the people,” said Dr. Eddie Dorotan, CAN convenor. 

COMMUTERS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION MASS TRANSPORTATION
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