Commuters, advocates sound the alarm on transportation woes anew amid MECQ
Long lines of commuters can be seen at the EDSA-Quezon Avenue bus stop and MRT GMA-Kamuning station on Monday morning, a day after the highest single-day record of new COVID-19 cases.
The STAR/Michael Varcas
Commuters, advocates sound the alarm on transportation woes anew amid MECQ
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - August 4, 2020 - 12:17pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:43 p.m.) — With Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces reverting to modified enhanced community quarantine once more, commuters are left without many options all over again in the middle of a pandemic, a civil society coalition of transport advocates and commuters said Monday. 

In a letter addressed to Carlito Galvez Jr, chief implementer of the National Task Force against COVID-19 late Monday evening, the Move as One transport coalition pointed out that employees and even frontliners are still going to work despite the transportation department's suspension of most of its services. 

"Even during this 'time out' period, we need to ensure an adequate number of public utility vehicles and to augment supply of such vehicles that conform to health and safety standards to meet the round-the-clock demand for essential travel during MECQ," the letter reads. 

"This means increasing public transport supply across all modes: buses, jeepneys, taxis, TNVS, UV express, tricycles, and trains, under updated minimum public health standards. Our health and economic systems will collapse if our essential workers cannot get to work. Most essential workers do not have access to a private shuttle or a car. Private shuttles and 'Libreng Sakay' services are not enough: they serve only 1 to 5% of trip demand," they also said. 

The coalition in its open letter reiterated its earlier and longstanding plea for the government to look into public transport service contracting, emergency subsidies for transport workers, protected bike lanes and pedestrian infrastructure, along with the "release of minimum public health standards in transport that reflect the latest medical evidence on ventilation to prevent the possible aerosol transmission of COVID-19."

Move as One also recommended in its letter, also addressed to Health Secretary Francisco Duque, Transportation Aecretary Arthur Tugade and LTFRB Chairman Martin Delgra, that the IATF Omnibus Guidelines for ECQ and MECQ to be amended should include: 

“Ensure availability and adequacy of public transportation restricted to essential travel, following strict health and safety protocols such as physical distancing, proper ventilation, mandatory wearing of masks (and face shields), and regular disinfection of public utility vehicles. Commissioned shuttle services for employees of permitted offices and establishments, as well as point-to-point transport services provided by the government shall be encouraged, giving priority to health care workers and essential workers.”

Transport woes 

To recall, the very first day of general community quarantine—which was implemented to kickstart the nation's economy—saw droves of commuters unable to find rides to their workplaces, all documented in long lines at rail line stations and bus stops, owing to the pronounced lack of transportation options sans traditional jeepneys and UV Expresses. 

READ: Familiar transportation woes as Metro Manila lurches to 'new normal'

The government blamed these crowds on the people's lack of discipline.

Transportation chief Arthur Tugade asserted the department "never promised or said that transportation will be extensive and will meet the requirements of all on the first day." 

Even the medical professionals who called for the imposition of the ECQ acknowledged the lackluster transportation services provided over the past 140 days of community quarantine. 

The manifesto penned by the Philippine College of Physicians reads: "We need prompt and rapid solutions with long term impact such as the immediate implementation of service contracting, pop-up bicycle lanes and pedestrian lanes. Workers need more public transportation options to prevent congestion in public streets. We need these now, not next year because people need to get to work but have no safe transport options.” 

At Sunday night's meeting of the government's coronavirus task force, it was Health chief Francisco Duque who also brought up the topic of public transportation and said he backed the construction of bike lanes for the many commuters now depending on cycling to their workplaces. 

While the Department of Transportation insists pushing through with its planned infrastructure projects, saying "if not now, then when?" civil society groups like the Move as One transportation coalition highlight that transportation is a public health issue.

READ: Nearly a month into GCQ, gov't uncertain on jeepney's fate

DOTr: Direct concerns to IATF-EID

In a message to reporters, transportation spokesperson Goddes Libiran said in Filipino that transportation officials were focused on giving free rides to medical workers for the time being. 

"Take note that apart from this, our Hatid-Tulong Program for OFWs is also continuing, wherein we also provide them with free transportation so they can go back home. In the first MECQ before, it's really the responsibility of companies to provide shuttle services to their employees. We will inquire with other government agencies for other Free Ride efforts. Before there were rides provided by the military and the police, among others," she said. 

The agency in its transport guidelines issued after the announcement of MECQ said: "For private transport, company shuttle is allowed to operate with passenger capacity of 50%, and an authorization letter or certificate from the company, indicating the route, as proof of lease."

RELATED: Shuttles for workers impounded for 'lack of contract' amid transportation shortage

Asked about workers whose employees do not have shuttle services, Libiran said: "There are free rides given by the Metro Manila Development Authority, national police, military, Department of National Defense, and local governments."

"LGUs also provide free shuttle services to their constituents. They can always raise their concern to the IATF through the NTF. That's going to be discussed anyway. Whatever their decision will be, the Department of Transportation will comply," she added. 

'Urgent meeting'

At an online forum on Tuesday morning, the Healthcare Professions Alliance and the Philippine Society of General Internal Medicine called for an "urgent meeting" with the Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, stressing the lack of transportation solutions despite MECQ already being implemented. 

In a statement sent to Philstar.com, Maria Golda Hilario, associate for program development of the climate and energy policy group Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities echoed the calls, saying: “We call for cost-effective solutions, particularly those which help advance the administration's long-term development goals. More pop-up bicycle lanes and pedestrian lanes need to be built immediately, and traffic regulations must be strictly enforced to fend off reckless motorists and those ignorant of safety considerations faced by cyclists and commuters."

“With the modified enhanced community quarantine again in place, we need to ensure health, sanitation and other frontline personnel have predictable means to travel to work and return home to their families safely. We share the government's aim to shift away from the grossly inefficient and unjust boundary system," she also said. 

"And we will work overtime to help the government confidently and methodically shift to service contracting of public utility vehicles, because our bus and jeepney drivers are no less as important as our doctors and nurses. They all deserve better,” she added. 

Traditional jeepneys, dubbed the Kings of the Road and among the most prominent choices for commuters, are largely still not permitted to ply their usual routes. 

This, as the transportation department continues to pursue its phaseout program in favor of modernized jeepneys that they say are more conducive for social distancing.

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION MASS TRANSPORTATION MODIFIED ENHANCED COMMUNITY QUARANTINE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
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