Have COVID, will travel

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

As I glanced through the pages of The Philippine STAR yesterday, a photo on the Metro section caught my attention and sent shivers down my spine. The image was taken at the Integrated Bus Terminal in Parañaque City where thousands of passengers had all but forgotten that we are still on Alert Level 1 and that social distancing is not a suggestion but a health protocol. They stood shoulder to shoulder waiting for arriving buses that would take them to their destination, not realizing that if someone in the crowd was COVID positive, chances are they too would eventually catch it and carry on spreading the virus on board and at home. If the said photo will be representative of most airports, piers, bus terminals and transport stations this Holy Week, then you can bet your month’s salary that we will surely have a COVID surge by the end of the month, if not on election week.

Even before the fact, Team AGENDA at Cignal TV is already preparing for the inevitable post Holy Week scenario. The question that needs to be asked and addressed is: WHAT ARE AUTHORITIES DOING ABOUT IT? Yes, the LTO, PNP and DOTr are all visiting bus terminals and inspecting the road-worthiness of vehicles and doing random drug tests of drivers. But what about proper management of customers, passenger traffic and implementation of health protocols?

During the height of the pandemic, the government was well able to enforce the allowed limits on customers or venue capacity. The DTI was feared by business establishments because they really shut down violators, even the DOTr strictly enforced passenger loads between 30 to 70 percent capacity in jeepneys. But why have they stopped doing so?

We are on Alert Level 1 but that only means a maximum of 100 percent capacity not 200 percent or over-capacity of passengers inside terminals and dropping of health protocols such as social distancing by using the Holy Week as an excuse for not doing their jobs! I guess they are probably fatigued but failing to prevent infection now insures long-term lockdowns and another vicious cycle of risky work.

One would imagine that after two years of online ordering and deliveries and digitalization of our lives that the DOTr would have institutionalized online booking and reservations for all passengers regardless of mode of transport. Just about every Filipino has a cellphone and if not, they are well able to borrow or “maki hiram” a cell phone from a friend or at the neighborhood sari-sari store or even at the nearby barangay hall.

I bring this up because only by institutionalizing this system can we properly manage passenger arrivals, minimize queueing or lines in crowded facilities. When the terminal management have advance information on passenger volumes, they can schedule the arrival and departure as well as number of units needed to make available. That way there won’t be any need for expensive special trips and permits, and we could certainly reduce the pathetic images of people pictured or interviewed and presented as desperate “chance passengers.” If anything, all of the above is evidence of government’s failure at managing transport.

For the longest time, the principal challenges in public transport have always been about the availability of routes, schedules and reservations. Most transport firms don’t even have a properly functioning and operated telephone, many are not online and most don’t even have a functional website. As a result, people have to “travel before their actual travel” – meaning they have to go to the bus station or pier to buy tickets (because advanced reservations don’t exist), go home, wait until the actual day of their departure.

Because of the current confusion and changing policies, many bus riders of the past don’t even know which terminals are functioning and where they can buy tickets, is it on EDSA or is it in Pasay or Bocaue?

Does this mean that Congress has to pass a law to force the DOTr and the different transport operators to have at least one landline and one dedicated mobile for customer concerns, to have multi-point online access for tickets and reservations and online payments and, last but not the least, have a strict departure schedule for trips? Judging from our decades old experience in public transport especially during the holidays, I guess that only a law with serious fines and penalties can force both government and the transport sector to level up and professionalize.

If politically appointed transport officials and industry members can’t be bothered to improve and upgrade the industry business model, then it is about time for members of the upcoming Congress to pass a law that will respect Filipino travelers and give them their money’s worth.

Sometime back, I saw a parliamentary hearing of the European Union where they took up the issue involving the lack of uniformity or commonality of charging cables for mobile phones. It seems that EU officials have long been speaking with representatives of various electronic firms and manufacturers of mobile phones about consumer complaints that every time they buy a new phone, they have to have a compatible charger. European customers were pointing out that the charging point should all be of one design only so that anywhere you go, one would be readily available.

Another major argument or concern for the EU is the amount of electronic rubbish or garbage generated yearly when consumers throw out old phones or change chargers. During the public discussions, the company representatives kept insisting that manufacturers needed more time to arrive at what type of charger would be best – the mini-USB, lightning, etc. It was a case of no one willing to give up their proprietary rights and investments in technology and manufacturing.

The debate was finally put to an end when the lead EU official declared that EU would require a specific charger design henceforth because the manufacturers have talked for nine years and arrived at nothing.


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