Back to basic in the new normal
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - June 3, 2020 - 12:00am

If there is a will, there is a way” idiom is most appropriate to describe the return of thousands of workers and employees back to their respective workplaces in Metro Manila last Monday. Rather than take their chances of being stranded if they commute, some literally wheeled their way using bicycles going to and fro to their workplaces and offices in Metro Manila.

This was a day after the entire Metro Manila and other areas in the country were downgraded to general community quarantine (GCQ). From the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) that lapsed last Saturday, the downgrading to GCQ in NCR led to the re-opening of previously shuttered business and manufacturing establishments classified as engaged in non-essential goods and activities now allowed 50% resumption of operations.

The reopening of these establishments and companies coincided on second day of the GCQ that took effect all over the national capital region (NCR) as approved by President Rodrigo Duterte. This was based on the recommendations of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Disease (IATF-MEID). It is the IATF that regularly reviews and conducts risk assessment of the 2019 coronavirus disease (C19) infection cases all over the Philippines.

As far as Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade saw the cause of last Monday’s stranded commuters in Metro Manila, it was the fault of many employers who required their workers and employees to report back to their workplaces without providing them shuttle service as they ought to under the GCQ guidelines. Tugade is a member of the IATF. Tugade bristled at criticisms of lack of planning of DOTr on the provision of public transport.

The DOTr chief assuaged yesterday the public the problem on public transport shortage in Metro Manila would just be a “temporary inconvenience.” Tugade appealed for more understanding while the transition to safer public transport system is being put in place by the government while there is still public health threat of C19 infection.

Under the GCQ guidelines of the IATF, the DOTr set a two-phased resumption of public transport services. The first phase is limited to train and bus augmentation units, taxis, ride-hailing cars, point-to-point buses, shuttle services, and bicycles until June 21. From June 22 to June 30, public utility buses, modern e-jeepneys, and UV express vans would be allowed to operate. Tricycles are also allowed subject to the approval of local government units (LGUs) while provincial buses are still barred from entering Metro Manila.

As per counting of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), there were as many as 1,300 of cyclists seen biking along Edsa and Roxas Boulevard, presumably many of them returning workers and employees. According to the estimates of the MMDA, there were at least 800 cyclists observed biking along Edsa-Ortigas Avenue; 400 along Quezon Avenue, and 177 along Roxas Boulevard from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. last Monday.

Ironically, biking along busy major thoroughfares like Edsa and Roxas Boulevard is not allowed.

This is simply because there is no designated bike lanes in Edsa and Roxas Boulevard, MMDA General Manager Jojo Garcia pointed out. This is much worse in the case of Edsa that is already bursting in seams in the sheer volume of motor vehicles.

Before the onset of the C19 pandemic, there have been official announcements to designate bike lanes in major roads all over the country under the administration’s ambitious infrastructure program dubbed as Build, Build, Build. Primarily in charge of this infrastructure projects are Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Mark Villar and the DOTr headed by Tugade.

MMDA bike lane program head Ching Salinas disclosed last Monday to The Star that her office has been counting the number of bicycle users during the quarantine period. “It is elating to the feeling to see them bike to work, but you also feel bad for them because there are still no dedicated bike lanes,” Salinas said. There are two working bike lanes reportedly along Edsa – the 982.6 meter EDSA White Plains to Temple Drive bike lane, and the 2.105 km EDSA Ortigas to Santolan bike lane.

But the problem is the bike lanes along Edsa is not connected and is also being used by pedestrians. Salinas cited the MMDA is doing a study to possibly provide more permanent bike lanes along Edsa and other roads that can be given special lane for bikers as part of the so-called “new normal” to stop the spread of C19 contagion.

Also under the “new normal,” the traditional or classic public utility jeepneys (PUJs) – our country’s iconic jeepneys – are effectively phased out, according to Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). The DOTr finally found the opportunity to finally implement the phase out of the more than ten-year old PUJs and the so-called “rolling coffins” off our roads. Through the “new normal,” Tugade can now fend off militant jeepney operators and drivers groups that have blocked the jeepney modernization project of the DOTR that he has been pushing to implement since day one of the Duterte administration in 2016.

Although there is designated lane for motorycles  – but they still weave in and out of this lane – bicycles could complicate further the safety on the road especially along accident-prone areas in Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (Edsa), named after the late Filipino nationalist. Already, a collision accident between a motorcycle and a cyclist on bicycle took place yesterday morning along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City. Fortunately, it was not that fatal as only minor injury on the biker.

Today we observe the International World Bicycle Day declared in April 2018 by the United Nations to encourage the world to “adopt best practices and means to promote the bicycle among all members of society.” Amid the C19 contagion, we may have to go back to basic like riding bicycles. In fact, the demand for bicycle pushed up its price now that it has become a popular mode of transport.

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