Allowing more PUVs will help ensure compliance to COVID-19 protocols — commuter group

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Allowing more PUVs will help ensure compliance to COVID-19 protocols â commuter group
Photo release shows operatives of the PNP-Highway Patrol Group and the Inter-Agency Council for Traffic implementing random checks of coronavirus protocols in public transportation.
Inter-Agency Council for Traffic on Facebook

MANILA, Philippines — A commuter group appealed Wednesday for the Department of Transportation to allow more public utility vehicles to ply routes after the government's traffic management body announced it would intensify its operations against coronavirus protocol violators in public transportation.

To recall, the Inter-Agency Council for Traffic in a statement sent to reporters Tuesday vowed to "show no leniency" on drivers who fail to ensure that passengers are following health protocols.

In a statement, TPF Convenor Primo Morillo said that while the group supports the implementation of COVID-19 protocols in public transportation, the national government should also allow more vehicles to ply their routes to offset the effects of decreased capacity.

“Bus and jeepney passengers know the rules and we believe that most of them want to obey these rules. However, it is a fact that there is a supply problem in the current public transportation landscape and this is a great hindrance in how to effectively implement our COVID-19 protocols,” he said. 

“This is clearly a problem of the lack of spaces for PUV passengers and it is the reason why commuters are left with no choice but to occupy remaining seats or even bus aisles meant to be vacant for social distancing. It will be very helpful if the DOTR will give a go-signal for more PUVs on our roads,” he added.

READ: Traffic body vows stricter enforcement of pandemic protocols on public transport

The I-ACT is composed of the Metro Manila Council, the military, the transportation department, the Metro Manila Development Authority, the Land Transportation Office, the LTFRB, the PNP-Highway Patrol Group, and the Liga ng mga Barangay ng Pilipinas. 

From January to February 2021 alone, the council disclosed it had apprehended 517 PUV drivers for similar violations after their random daily inspection of PUVs in the country noted several breaches of COVID-19 protocols.

The inter-agency body already made headlines twice in the coronavirus pandemic, both of which were after the council's enforcers apprehending and impounding private shuttles servicing office workers without notarized documents. 

Commuter groups and users on social media have since slammed the moves, saying they only contribute to the growing need for transportation options amid the pandemic. 

Social media has also been rife with accounts of jeepney drivers who were penalized for passengers who weren't observing minimum health standards. 

The I-ACT, however, said it was up to PUV drivers to implement health measures on their units. 

“We are taking COVID-19 very seriously. The task force will show no leniency to PUV drivers who fail to implement health protocols aboard their unit at the expense of their passengers’ lives,” I-ACT Task Force Chief and DOTr Assistant Secretary Manuel Gonzales said.

Though the number of public utility vehicles and routes has drastically improved since the first general community quarantine, many PUVs and their operators—especially those not participating in the transportation department's service contracting scheme—are still not allowed on the road. 

According to transport group Piston, this has left many drivers and operators jobless and without government aid amid the longest community quarantine in the world. 

“We are united in defeating COVID-19. With the most recent rise in active cases, it is even more pressing for us to look for measures that will truly make our protocols more practicable," Morillo said. 

“We are hoping that the DOTR will see that while apprehensions are necessary to remind the public, one of the best ways to implement COVID-19 protocols in public transportation is to solve the apparent lack of jeeps and buses on the road,” he also said.

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