Metro Manila’s transportation system will run at reduced speed beginning 1 June as it transits from modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) to the less restrictive general community quarantine (GCQ) when limitations are eased in the region that accounts for the bulk of the national income.
The Department of Transportation (DoTr) said it is set to usher in the first phase of the “new normal” in the transportation sector with a newfound vigilance against the dreaded coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Under updated public transport guidelines and protocols, a phased approach is adopted in reintroducing the operation of the different modes of public transportation.
Phase 1 from 1 to 21 June allows for train and bus augmentation, taxis, transport network vehicle services (TNVS), shuttle services, point-to-point buses and bicycles may operate but with limited passenger capacity.
Tricycles will also be allowed subject to prior approval by local government units although no provincial buses are allowed entry into Metro Manila.
Late on Thursday, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said Metro Manila trains will operate at 10 to 15 percent of capacity although designated buses on special lanes will make up for the reduced capacity. This will also double the speed of the trains to 60 kilometers per hour.
Up to 500 buses, including point-to-point (P2P) buses will exclusively use the EDSA mid lane.
The Philippine National Railway, which has added new trains and complete the replacement of old rails with new by September, will operate at 35 percent of capacity in strict observance of social distancing protocol.
In signaling that indeed the new normal is here and that outmoded modes of transport have to accept they are on the way out, Tugade bared plans of rolling out an e-money system for buses, taxis and jeepneys as part of the broader goal of minimizing contact with people and curtailing COVID-19.
According to him, the DoTr is working out an agreement with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and with the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) for a dedicated bike lane along EDSA.
“We have to balance our mandate to provide transportation with our responsibility to help in the spread of the virus. Therefore, the capacity will also be limited, gradual and calculated,” he said.
He likewise announced that domestic commercial flights are allowed between areas under GCQ and of plans to reopen international gateways in Clark, Cebu and Davao to restart local tourism and ease the travel woes of returning overseas Filipino workers.
The airports in Zamboanga, Iloilo, Bacolod and Bohol were to reopen with their own test laboratories to ensure arriving passengers are COVID-free.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año also said returning overseas Filipino workers will be flown to airports closest to their hometowns.
Under Phase 2 from 22 to 30 June, public utility buses (PUB), modern PUV and the UV Express are allowed to operate with limited passenger capacity as well as are the transport modes already allowed earlier.
The one-meter social distance rule between persons will be strictly enforced in all mass transport units in adherence to health protocols.
With more people now allowed to work and a reduction in the capacity of transportation systems, commuters may be forced to wait in long lines, increasing the likelihood of spreading the virus.
Public transportation in the regions must enforce stringent sanitary measures as drivers, personnel and passengers are required to wear face masks at all times.
The availability of alcohol and sanitizers, disinfection of high-touch surfaces and the establishment of disinfection facilities in PUV and terminals are mandatory.
According to Tugade, the cashless payment systems in taxis, buses and modernized jeepneys will lessen contact between persons.
The new normal in the transport sector include the automatic fare collection system for cashless payment transactions, electronic toll collection, and GNSS/GPS.
Duterte has placed the National Capital Region under GCQ starting 1 June as well as Davao City, Regions II, III and IV-A, Pangasinan and Albay while the rest of the country is placed under a modified general community quarantine.
“The state has every right to control your movement if you pass on the contagion to the population,” the President said of his decision in a nationally televised address.
GCQ pertains to temporary measures limiting movement and transportation, the regulation of operating industries and presence of uniformed personnel to enforce community quarantine protocols.
MGCQ, on the other hand, refers to the transition from GCQ and the New Normal, when the following temporary measures are relaxed and become less necessary: limiting movement and transportation, the regulation of operating industries, and the presence of uniformed personnel to enforce community quarantine protocols.
Metro Manila will be placed in GCQ despite experts from the Philippines and University of Santo Tomas discouraging the shift to GCQ, saying this may be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of residents.
with MJ BLANCAFLOR