Mobility in the Post-COVID-19 Age
STREET LIFE - Nigel Paul Villarete (The Freeman) - April 28, 2020 - 12:00am

Last week, there was a news report hinting on the probable resumption of partial operations of trains and buses in Metro Manila. By partial operability, they mean that the operational capacity will be abbreviated and reduced, which I interpret to mean capacities (a rider cap of only 30% was mentioned), and frequencies could be decreased, and operating hours shortened. If the last two are considered, the total person-trips per day will be far less than 30% of the pre-pandemic daily trips. Even when the ECQ is lifted, without a vaccine, the operations of public transportation would still be expected to be around 30% of normal. That’s the new normal.

How about trips done through private cars? I don’t know how they will gradually ramp this up, but they will – the clamor of car owners would be too persistent. After all, 99% of mobility decision-makers in this country are car users. For all intents and purposes, the entire fleet will be back. Even if we add a driver-only policy, or a single-passenger policy, it won’t make a huge change – the average usage of private cars is 1.2 pax or less; majority are driver-only. So, we are looking at a worse situation where cars go back to normal while public transportation, already underprovided and discriminated before the pandemic, will become more difficult.

But what can we do? What will we do? Last week, we wrote about COVID-19 and Inclusive Mobility, and how administrators automatically stopped public transportation when ECQ was implemented. Public cars were still allowed, for a time, until these were somewhat curtailed because of the induced traffic. The medical reason is understandable, but it disenfranchised the majority, over 80%, who don’t own cars! --letting them walk and making them suffer more than they already did in the first place. While the state is responsible for the people’s well-being, it also has a responsibility for its mobility, for all and not a select exclusive few!

The dilemma is the same for lockdown scenarios as well as the post-COVID-19 new normal. Until after a vaccine comes, and even after the next pandemic which will surely come, social distancing, and masks, will become the norm. That means that mass transportation as we know it may not be in the same form in the future. But whether in a pandemic or in the future new normal, mass transportation is still indispensable in a stratified society where less than a sixth own cars. The state has to device a way to sustain it, more judiciously by subsidizing it, the same way as it has been grossly subsidizing cars in the entire past (only a few people realize cars are the most subsidized form of mobility).

Maybe the pandemic will pave the way for mobility to be truly inclusive. It’s just right that the world realizes the undemocratic and discriminating way it looks at how people move. We see the world through our own eyes, but sadly, transport laws and policies are made by those who own cars. We hope the coronavirus pandemic will lead us into a better inclusive future.

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