Boost public transport capacity
The economy has suffered tremendously because of the COVID-19 lockdown. The decreases in international trade and OFW remittances are significant contributors. The lockdown has also devastated local businesses, causing them to downsize or shut down. The unemployment rate has reached a high of 17.7 percent in April 2020, causing a lack of household income. It has increased national hunger and malnutrition, both of which are critical causes of sickness on top of the ongoing pandemic.
The relaxation of quarantine measures in Metro Manila is meant to help the economy open gradually. The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases said that the economy is operating at 58.2 percent as more workers can go back to work. However, the economy is only effectively 35.5 percent open due to the lack of public transportation. Only a limited number of PUVs are currently operating. The MRT and LRT abide by physical distancing guidelines, reducing the capacity to a mere 12 percent. Although several employers have implemented a work-from-home setup, not all industries will be able to adapt. The lack of public transport is a bottleneck in increasing the number of working Filipinos.
Despite the overall decline in the unemployment rate in September, Metro Manila unemployment remains at 15.8 percent and is likely to remain as such if the economy cannot boost capacity. The improvement in public transport through the development of more modes of transport, the addition of fleets, and the increase in capacity per vehicle is vital. Supplementing these are essential guidelines commuters will need to follow to keep themselves and others safe. With these in place, we can reopen the economy without risking a massive outbreak. Japan and Singapore have been able to keep their COVID-19 cases down despite their public transport continuing to operate above 70 percent. They proved that public transport is not a significant vector for COVID-19 transmission.
There are three pillars needed to boost public transport capacity:
(1) Increase in modes of transport. Filipinos must have options for a safer commute. Accommodation of bike lanes and improved sidewalks are essential to greater mobility. The inclusion of a Bus Rail Transit along major highways will aid in decongesting trains and buses while maintaining convenience for intercity workers. Reinstating motorcycle taxi services will allow commuters a quick way to get to their destination without sacrificing safety.
(2) Additional fleets. There are a lot of routes that have not been operational since March. A contributing factor is the phaseout of old jeepneys. An increase in fleets is essential to help disperse commuters, avoid long lines, and create options for a safer commute. It will mean delaying the phaseout and focusing on additional vehicles for commuters.
(3) Increase in capacity per vehicle. Under GCQ, the majority of PUVs are currently operating at a reduced capacity. Increasing capacity in public transport can be done safely if commuters strictly adhere to wearing masks and face shields and refraining from talking or eating while in transit. It will also reduce waiting times for passengers in terminal lines where congestion tends to build up.
The increase in public transport is not without the necessary guidelines to keep commuters safe. The Seven Commandments to Revitalize the Philippines Safely was proposed to the IATF by medical experts like former health secretaries Dr. Manuel Dayrit and Dr. Esperanza Cabral, and the dean of the UP College of Public Health, Dr. Vicente Belizario Jr. These are guidelines that will help Filipinos mobilize in the new normal. The commandments are: (1) Wearing of proper face masks; (2) Wearing of face shields; (3) No talking and no eating; (4) Adequate ventilation; (5) Frequent and proper disinfection; (6) No symptomatic passengers; and (7) Appropriate physical distancing.
These guidelines will aid in loosening physical distancing rules, helping boost public transport capacity.
Public transport is a requisite factor in reviving the economy. Making improvements in modes, fleets, and capacity isn’t without its difficulties. Neighboring countries have shown us that it is possible to reopen the economy if there is unity between the efforts of the government and the shared responsibility of citizens. By working together, we can make Filipinos become mobile safely and help them thrive despite the ongoing pandemic.——————George Royeca is chief transport advocate of Angkas.
——————Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).
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