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DOTr backs proposal for 100% PUV capacity

Richmond Mercurio - The Philippine Star
DOTr backs proposal for 100% PUV capacity
Passengers pictured at Tandang Sora Jeep Terminal in Visayas Avenue, Quezon City on Oct. 19, 2021. The Department of Transportation is pushing for an increase in passenger capacity of public utility vehicles following the downgrading of Metro Manila's COVID-19 alert level from 4 to 3.
The STAR / Michael Varcas, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is pushing its proposal to raise the passenger capacity in public transport back to 100 percent.

The agency said it is ready to defend its recommendation before the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) tomorrow.

Passenger capacities of various public transportation modes in the road and rail sectors have been significantly reduced since the onset of the pandemic to prevent the spread of the virus.

Transportation Assistant Secretary for road transport and infrastructure Steve Pastor said, during the public hearing of the subcommittee of the Senate committee on finance on Monday, that the DOTr has submitted to the IATF its formal position paper on the increase in passenger capacity for public transport from the current 50 percent to 100 percent.

The DOTr’s recommendation to increase passenger capacity in public transportation, with pilot implementation in Metro Manila, is one of the measures being considered to help drivers and operators recover amid the pandemic and the continued increase of fuel prices.

The DOTr said Metro Manila being placed under Alert Level 3 has resulted in greater demand for public transport, as more businesses are allowed to open and more people allowed to go out.

The agency said studies have shown that reliance on complete face mask use and partial hand sanitizer use were proven enough to contain three very modest COVID-19 waves while preserving normal bus services.

“Other studies have also revealed that passengers in the high-risk zones (seats in the same row with an infected passenger and within three rows) had moderate but not significantly higher risk, and that ‘rigid’ safe distancing rules are an oversimplification based on outdated science and experiences of past viruses,” the agency said.

The DOTr said evidence also suggest that high vaccination rate prompts an increase in allowed public utility vehicle capacity.

It said Metro Manila, with 81.4 percent of its population now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, is the ideal place to test the proposal.

Public utility jeepneys and buses operating in Metro Manila are also well-ventilated, according to the agency.

The DOTr said a rapid analysis of available data on COVID-19 cases and public transport capacity covering 10 countries conducted by the agency also found that public transport capacity has no significant correlation with the number of COVID-19 cases.

On top of these, the DOTr recognized that the livelihood of public transport drivers and operators were severely affected with passenger capacity in public transport maintained at 50 percent.

“Increasing passenger capacity will mean a higher revenue for the public transport sector. This will be a welcome development, considering the increase in expenses brought by increasing fuel prices,” the agency said.

Meanwhile, the DOTr has reiterated the position of Secretary Arthur Tugade against any fare increase amid soaring fuel prices.

Pastor said hikes in fuel prices should not be shouldered by the passengers.

“We in the DOTr do not want fares to increase because for us, the commuting public has nothing to do with the rise in the price of crude, that is why we don’t want them shouldering this,” Pastor said.
Meanwhile, a transport group will no longer pursue a fare hike, after the national government’s economic team approved a P1-billion cash subsidy to compensate for soaring fuel prices.

The government yesterday approved fuel subsidies for eligible public transportation vehicles, to be distributed via the Pantawid Pasada Program System, allocating P1 billion for fuel subsidy for 178,000 public utility drivers.

Liga ng Transportasyon at Operators ng Pilipinas (LTOP) president Orlando Marquez said at a Laging Handa briefing they will no longer purse their petition seeking a P12 minimum fare.

While they welcome the subsidy from the national government, Marquez urged the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to bring back the minimum fare to P10 as it would be of great help to drivers.

Emergency cash assistance

There is an urgent need to provide emergency cash assistance and fuel subsidies to farmers and fisherfolk to keep food prices from spiraling, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said yesterday.

“When the food production cost is high, so will be the prices of food. Now that oil prices are going up, we must help our farmers and fisherfolk through cash aid and fuel subsidies like those for (public utility vehicle) drivers,” the senator said.

Pangilinan, who is a former food security secretary, cited the report of the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) that a bag of urea fertilizer, which cost P850 in October 2020, has more than doubled its price to P1,800 per bag in October 2021.

In its calculations, Sinag said palay production cost increased by P2.50 per kilo due to the urea price increase. What used to be P15.50 per kilo production cost is now at P18 per kilo.

All these while traders are buying palay at only P11.5 per kilo, like in Rosales, Pangasinan.

“They were the ones who tilled the land, they were the ones planted but they are the ones hungry. We cannot let our farmers go bankrupt or we will all go hungry,” he said.

In a letter dated Oct. 20, Agriculture Secretary William Dar requested the Department of Energy to implement a petrol discount scheme for operators of food delivery trucks and vehicles, and small fishermen operating bancas.

“We support Secretary Dar and implore (Energy) Secretary (Alfonso) Cusi to also implement fuel subsidies for the agriculture sector,” he said.

He also raised the possibility of implementing cash-for-work programs under the Department of Agriculture to provide additional income for farmers and fisherfolk while awaiting possible cash and fuel subsidies.

Price ceiling

Human rights lawyer and senatorial aspirant Chel Diokno on Tuesday urged the government to implement a price ceiling to help lessen the public’s burden, especially those affected by the pandemic.

“Many of us who have not yet recovered from the pandemic are further burdened by rising prices of food and other commodities. Even those who are more comfortable in life are also feeling the rise of prices today,” he said in Filipino.

“The government should implement an immediate price ceiling on the price of basic commodities during the pandemic. Let us make the lives of our countrymen who are suffering now at least easier,” he added.

Diokno, chair of the Free Legal Assistance Group, described the increase in prices as untimely, noting that many have yet to find employment and other livelihood opportunities. – Janvic Mateo, Paolo Romero, Emmanuel Tupas, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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