The only way that train ridership can be increased while maintaining the strict health protocol on distancing is to purchase more coaches, an official of the Department of Transportation (DoTr) told the House Committee on Transportation yesterday.
The House panel had called on the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to implement measures to increase the daily capacity of mass transport lines.
During rush hours, long lines form in every train station as the number of passengers have been greatly reduced to maintain the one meter safety space among persons requirement to avoid potential infection from the virus.
During its hearing on Tuesday, the panel’s chair Samar Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento said the committee will be submitting again a letter to the IATF to reiterate its request.
“We will submit again another letter relevant to the railway to increase the ridership. That is the appeal of the chair and of course the members of the committee on transportation,” Sarmiento said, as he added that the government should ensure that the commuters especially those who returned back to work “will have a transportation they can rely on.”
DoTr Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon, however, told the panel that the IATF had rejected the agency’s proposal to increase train ridership.
“In line with the request of committee to increase the capacity, the DoTr together with rail line operators submitted to the IATF a proposal on how to increase the number of ridership.”
He said the proposal was to reduce the distance between passengers currently at one meter to .5 meter to allow more commuters.
The reduced distance will be compensated with additional health preventive measures such as mandatory wearing of face shields and the wearing of full personal protective equipment of train personnel.
Tuazon said the IATF advised them against the proposal. With the denial, the only way to increase ridership is to deploy more trains daily, according to Tuazon.
Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1 runs 24 trains; LRT-2, five trains; Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3, 18 trains and the Philippine National Railways (PNR), 11 trains.
Light Rail Manila Corporation Chief Operating Officer Enrico Benipayo said LRT-1 is now servicing up to 70,000 passengers a day, down from 470,000 before the pandemic.
Each train can now carry only up to 155 passengers due to the one meter social distancing protocol.
Light Rail Transit Authority Deputy Administrator for Operations Paul Chua for his part said LRT-2’s highest ridership recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic is at 36,000 against 220,000 before the health crisis.
MRT-3 Director for Operations Michael Capati said before the COVID-19 crisis, the mass transit services up to 280,000 passengers a day.
PNR follows relaxed rules
Now the management has recorded ridership of up to 55,000 per day.
“Basically the issue there is compliance on physical distancing, one meter apart inside the train,” Capati told the panel.
While the elevated train lines are following IATF’s protocol as to the one meter distance between passengers, PNR is doing otherwise.
PNR Assistant General Manager Celeste Lauta told the panel PNR is implementing the .5 meter social distancing but with additional measures for protection of passengers.
“PNR implemented a modified train capacity that increased our capacity from 20 percent to 27 percent that was with the implementation of face shield,” Lauta explained.
“We were able to identify having the face shield is an effective measure to reduce the number of infection. With the face shield and mask combination there is a 99 percent protection for passengers,” Lauta said.
Lauta added the management of PNR also resticted the use of cell phones and prohibited conversations during train rides.
With the implementation of .5 meter social distancing and other preventive measures, its ridership during COVID-19 pandemic increased from 11,000 up to 17,000. Prior to COVID-19 PNR is servicing up to 60,000 commuters.