COVID-19 a wake-up call for transit
STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul C. Villarete (The Freeman) - September 15, 2020 - 12:00am

If there’s anything we can call good about the almost-a-year Covid-19 pandemic, it’s the realization that no matter how advanced our civilization really became, there were really things which we weren’t doing correctly. Or if not that, that there are things we could have done better than how we did them. Or most importantly, that there are things we could do without. The last one is more important because this can make us realize that we were doing things not for the right reasons or because these were needed but we simply wanted to.

The “bicycle” thing is a good example. For years, even decades, a tiny segment of society was advocating the building of bike lanes. Some wanted them for the heck of it, because they love biking, which is not bad in itself, but it placed the wrong emphasis on the bike lanes rather than on biking itself. No bike lanes are not built because biking is not safe, but these are necessary to protect the bikers from cars and other motor vehicles. The lanes are for the cars not to hit them, not for the bikers themselves. Bicycles are as safe as sheep!

No, they had all the reasons not to build bike lanes. We can just remember all the reasoning. Not even when former Pred. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed an executive order and an administrative order more than decade ago providing for emphasis on non-motorized transport (NMT) along with her National Environmentally Sustainable Transport Strategy (NESTS). Departments and agencies were ordered. No one moved.  Until now, more than a decade later. And it took the Covid-19 pandemic to have all of them scrambling to promote biking and walking, now called “active transportation.” Still concentrating on “bike lanes,” not on mobility itself, but it’s good enough for now. Hopefully they’ll move to “inclusive mobility.”

What is not given much importance is public transportation and it seems they still have their own individual agendas on doing what they want instead of addressing the need. We have already explained how the pandemic has changed the numbers and the way capacity and mobility interacts as we go into a new normal of socialized distancing. And because of this, there surely is a need for infusing subsidy into our transport systems. But the government is dragging its leg on the matter and so we see the lack of mobility all around us. They wouldn’t even deploy the clearest and easiest way to provide mobility – by letting the traditional jeepneys return to provide capacity. I agree with modernization and we should continue on that. But not force the issue and make the pandemic as the excuse, which may even cause the resurgence of cases since public interaction is always due to mobility.

We’re not yet off curve. But we’re opening up, and that needs mobility. How we handle mobility is a primary determinant whether we succeed or slide down again to quarantine. Trace daily mobility – where do most people come close to most people in a day? In transit!

COVID-19
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