Selling like eggs
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - August 21, 2020 - 12:00am

On the eve of the return to general community quarantine or GCQ, even the egg dealer beside my favorite vegetable vendor was selling face shields and boxes of disposable face masks well into the night.

The new merchandise was in preparation for the return of mass transportation and reopening of more businesses, with drivers, commuters and workers required to wear face shields and masks.

That’s millions of people in Metro Manila and the four provinces eased back into GCQ – Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal – buying at least one face shield. The shields are clearly selling like… not hotcakes, but eggs.

In this pandemic, there are stacks of eggs for sale it seems everywhere. At P5 to P8 each, the egg is a nutritious, affordable food to go with our staple, rice, and even with the alternative staple, instant noodles. Eggs can be cooked easily in a variety of ways. Scrambled, fried sunny side up, boiled, or simply cracked open into a steaming cup of instant noodle, eggs are the go-to food for those who have lost their livelihoods in the pandemic (and for people like me who simply love eggs).

Even a group of jeepney drivers, whose garage I pass by on my way to work, has apparently discovered that eggs sell. The drivers used to carry paper signs begging for help along a side street after they were barred from plying their routes. Some weeks ago they began selling eggs and vegetables. They seem to be doing good business as the merchandise selection keeps expanding. It probably won’t give them their earnings when they were working as drivers, but it’s better than begging.

Jeepney drivers may have to consider a permanent change in their source of livelihood. The government isn’t budging on the phaseout of traditional jeepneys from major thoroughfares by yearend.

This is according to Transport Assistant Secretary Albert Suansing. The jeepneys will instead be relegated to minor and less profitable routes.

Will we miss the iconic jeepney? Suansing told “The Chiefs” on Thursday night on OneNews/TV 5 that the modern jeepney – nearly as wide and tall as mini buses, with entrance on the side, and mostly running on a combination of solar and electric power – can be painted in the Pinoy fiesta colors of the classic jeepney.

He stressed that the pandemic has opened opportunities for long-term reforms in the transport system.

*      *      *

Among the likely change that’s here to stay: the EDSA loop or busway. Suansing said the Department of Transportation (DOTr) is now in talks with bus owners for the installation of doors on the left side of the vehicles, with doors on the right to be decommissioned.

The cost of door conversion isn’t cheap: an average of P200,000. Suansing acknowledges that those who are prepared to make such an investment see the busway as a permanent change.

Infrastructure along the EDSA loop is being altered for the bus stops in the middle of Metro Manila’s busiest thoroughfare.

Bus operators also appear to be receptive to the idea of service contracting, Suansing said. Under the scheme, the operators are paid a fixed amount for providing bus services along EDSA and whichever franchise area may be added. Drivers are also paid a fixed salary, with no incentive given based on the number of passengers they pick up.

The service contractor, the government, estimates the number of buses required at certain hours of the day, and serves as bus dispatcher. More units are fielded during peak hours. Departure and arrival times for specific routes and destinations may be set and, more importantly, followed. Commuters can have a choice of point-to-point or express rides between long distances, or “local” trips with numerous stops in between short distances. Such systems have been in place for many years in other countries.

The consequent efficiency means savings for the operators. And with no urgent need to pick up as many passengers as vehicle space will allow, bus drivers need not jostle and linger at any spot, creating traffic bottlenecks.

It’s a good scheme, if it’s done as in other countries. But what if the next administration thinks it’s a bad idea?

Suansing concedes that such a policy shift from one administration to the next is possible. And he has no answer to the question.

If the scheme is implemented and shown to work, however, it will gain popular support, making it difficult for subsequent administrations to overturn the program.

*      *      *

Another long-term reform that is being rolled out is the development of an interconnected bicycle lane throughout Metro Manila. The DOTr is asking Congress for P1.04 billion for the envisioned barriers and other infrastructure for the interconnected lane that will cover approximately 644 kilometers. The P1.04 billion will be under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, now being hammered out by Congress.

Along EDSA, Suansing said the bike lane will occupy the outermost lane. With the inner lane dedicated to buses, private vehicles, taxis and other modes of transportation will have two lanes left.

As part of efforts to decongest EDSA, Suansing also disclosed plans to collect a traffic surge fee along the thoroughfare, similar to those in countries such as Singapore, which will be implemented through a radio frequency identification (RFID) system.

He acknowledges, however, that this can get public support only if mass transportation becomes adequate enough to persuade private car owners to commute.

The EDSA loop might provide a faster ride than the pre-pandemic bus experience. But the units are unlikely to be enough to meet the demand once Metro Manila is finally placed under the most lenient lockdown classification, the modified GCQ, and all businesses are allowed to resume operations.

*      *      *

Even with the light railway services operating and all taxi services back, physical distancing in all forms of mass transportation is sure to continue until a COVID vaccine comes along – which will be sometime in the first half of 2021 under the most optimistic scenario.

Commuting is an even greater hassle during the pandemic. So that EDSA toll isn’t going to happen any time soon. What might happen is the bike lane, as more people use bicycles due to the lack of public transport.

Traditional jeepneys are getting additional routes during the pandemic, but this is a reprieve, as far as the DOTr is concerned.

Jeepney drivers can either pool their resources to switch to modern jeepneys, as suggested by the DOTr, or else they will have to consider new livelihood sources.

With the high demand for eggs and other agricultural products these days, some of them might find a more lucrative way of making a living.

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