Amid commuter woes, PUV augmentation still hinges on return to GCQ
Jeepney Drivers in Caloocan City who are not yet allowed to operate ask for alms amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left millions of Filipinos jobless due to to the government's measures against the virus.
The STAR/Michael Varcas
Amid commuter woes, PUV augmentation still hinges on return to GCQ
( - August 13, 2020 - 2:27pm

MANILA, Philippines — Although the House transportation panel officially endorses the return of motorcycle taxi services, further plans on increasing the number of public utility jeepneys still depend largely on the eventual lifting of quarantine restrictions set by the government. 

At Thursday morning's hearing conducted by the House committee on transportation, executives of the transportation department including transportation assistant secretary Steve Pastor disclosed that the agency intended to increase the number of units per transportation mode, but only during the return to the general community quarantine.

According to Pastor, the number of bus units, for instance, which currently had some 4,600 authorized units, will be increased come GCQ.

"Come August 19, we will start to see buses with left doors, and this will be gradually increased over time," he said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

For his part, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board chairman Martin Delgra said: "Please be assured that hopefully, when the restrictions will ease up, there will be more PUJs and routes in the streets of Metro Manila by August 18. We will continue to add more jeepney units by next week."

"Our team has been meeting on a regular basis to add more units of PUJs and also on the buses as well as the UV Express...when the time comes for the resumption of public transport, it doesn't mean that we're back to where we were pre-COVID," he also said. 

Public transportation was suspended yet again once modified enhanced community quarantine was announced at the start of August, which is slated to last for two weeks until August 18.

For that entire duration, only public shuttles for frontliners, company shuttles and active transport will be allowed.

Service contracting, active transport infrastructure pushed

Transport economist Robert Siy, who was representing the Move as One transport coalition also reiterated the coalition's proposal for a service contracting scheme in the transport, which will see the government paying operators and drivers a fixed amount for plying their routes. 

He also highlighted the proposal for active transport modes, such as walking and cycling. 

"We should increase capacity of public transport but with safety measures, especially traditional jeepneys which account for a huge segment of public transport supply...We need to work towards service contracting. DOTr and LTFRB are working towards arrangement for service contracting if Bayanihan 2 becomes a law and provide a budget," he said. 

"When public transport is in short supply, it places the public at larger health risk. When you have crowding, you have higher risk of virus transmission. It becomes very important for all of us to work to increase the capacity of public transport...even if we released all capacity, because of physical distancing, it would still be inadequate. Even if we authorize our buses and jeepneys to operate, there is still the issue of viability: if they feel they will incur losses, they will be hesitant to go out," he also said. 

READ: Transport coalition hits slashed public transport budget under Bayanihan 2

Move as One earlier slammed House leadership for the slashed budget for public transport under the second iteration of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which the coalition said is a blatant abandonment of the pleas of healthcare frontliners and transport workers alike. 

Number of PUVs in Metro Manila is 'way too low'

The House committee on Metro Manila development has also sounded the alarm on the lackluster transportation services for commuters who still have to go to work amid the modified enhanced community quarantine. This happened at a separate hearing just a little over a week ago on August 5. 

The same calls were echoed then: for the Department of Transportation to allow more public utility vehicles to operate and service the demands of commuters. 

Rep. Edgar Erice (Caloocan) said at the time: "What we don't want to happen on August 19 when we go back to [general community quarantine] is for workers to still have to walk to get to the office, without public transport."

READ: Lack of PUVs in Metro Manila alarms House panel

Delgra had the same answer then as well, saying the LTFRB had already "received instructions from IATF to increase the number of units."

"The basic strategy that we have is that we're going to be opening up bunches of routes every week, and that is what we're going to submit on Friday. We've actually started it three weeks ago, releasing new routes covering hundreds if not thousands of units. So we will continue to do that so that we will continue to meet the target," he also said then.

The transportation department has called on the private sector to hire PUVs as shuttle services in the absence of mass transportation.  

Aid for jeepney drivers

Rep. Edgar Sarmiento (Samar 1st District), committee chair, also pushed the Department of Social Welfare and Development to hasten the release of its cash aid for drivers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. 

"The DOTr through LTFRB is actually coordinating with the DSWD, because right now, the numbers of the beneficiaries we are getting is mostly in Metro Manila, and the distribution is done on a regional level...some areas in other regions in the country have already received their financial assistance," Delgra said. 

This contradicts the calls of jeepney drivers on the ground, who say the DSWD asked them to submit another masterlist for drivers and operators in need of assistance, after they had already submitted one to the LTFRB previously.

On Tuesday, transport group Piston, which is composed of drivers and operators of jeepneys, said that jeepney drivers who have been barred from plying their usual routes and earning a living still have not received any aid from the government.

READ: Jeepney drivers have not received aid months into quarantine — Piston

Asked about the status of restrictions placed on traditional PUJs and complaints raised by residents and drivers, Interior Undersecretary Rj Echiverri said: "I don't exactly have the department's stand on the jeepneys...wala pa po (We don't have any yet). I will have to refer the matter to the secretary on that, we will submit it to the committee."

"They should already have a basis to ensure who should be given aid or the social amelioration program, but until now, we are being asked to apply for it again...We are being treated as though we are children being asked to find a needle in a haystack. We don't even know where we should get the aid, and who is actually tasked with helping the transportation sector," Piston president Mody Floranda said on Tuesday. 

"We hope they give us aid already instead of dragging it through long processes." 

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