A VETERAN congressman on Sunday reiterated his earlier recommendation for the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to allow more modes of public transportation to operate as another House leader reaffirmed her support for the reduction of the required physical distancing inside public transportation units.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, who chairs the House committee on ways and means, said allowing the operations of more modes of public transportation will help rebound the shuttered economy.
“Of course, we need to comply with minimum health standards. That is why the best way to ensure that we can enforce social distancing in transport systems is to have enough space for workers who travel in the first place,” Salceda said, commenting on a letter sent by the Philippine College of Physicians to President Duterte on September 11, 2020 recommending against the plan to “optimize” public transportation if it will involve reducing required distances between passengers.
The medical societies asked the Interagency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases to reconsider its recommendation to “optimize” public transport by reducing the required distancing in mass transit.
AAMBIS-OWA party-list Rep. Sharon Garin, chairperson of the House committee on economic affairs, backed the reduction of required physical distance inside public transportation units, claiming this will boost country’s transportation capacity and help the economy get back on its feet in no time.
Garin reminded that the mobility restrictions continue to choke the industry, much to the detriment of transport operators and drivers who continue to endure the effects of a plummeting economy.
“Transportation is integrated and interconnected with all businesses. The Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives has always pushed for easing up on public transportation.
We have consistently pushed and lobbied for this because this the primary and most important component in reviving our economy,” Garin explained.
Garin cited promising findings in Japan and France where links of new COVID-19 clusters to public transport remains zilch.
However, Garin maintained that this was made possible by constant wearing of facemask and face shield, and limiting close-range conversations.
Underscoring the urgency of easing restrictions for the transportation sector, Garin reminded that the estimated loss of revenue due to the suspension of Public Transportation Operations on a monthly basis is P21.3 billion.
“Without public transport, people can’t go to work and businesses won’t open. When supply for public transportation is less than demand, people forego social distancing. The wheels of the economy won’t start turning without ample public transportation,” Garin opined.
The DOTr is set to implement the new distancing guidelines on September 14, 2020.
Garin said this is a step toward the right direction, provided proper health protocols and risk management are practiced.
Salceda also added that service contracting would be crucial in ensuring that social distancing is enforced, by making more space available in the first place.
“Under GCQ (general community quarantine), the share of the NCR economy that is allowed to open is at 58 percent. However, without sufficient public transport to move the workers who operate the economy, the actual operational economy falls to 36 percent. That shrinkage will definitely delay our economic recovery,” Salceda said.
Salceda added that of 55,000 jeepneys in Manila, only about 6,000 are operating.
“This could be an opportunity to rationalize routes. With service contracting, we can actually allocate more vehicles to where they are actually needed, as opposed to our current outdated route map. We would also be able to provide transportation for an additional 400,000 workers, which could relieve pressure off our mass transit systems,” Salceda explained. “That is around 8% of all workers allowed to go to work.”
Salceda added the UV express vehicles may also be contracted, provided that they can be made safe and can allow for social distancing. COVID-19 risks in trains should be mitigated
He also said that he is in touch with medical societies and civil society organizations on alternatives to the IATF proposal that more people be allowed in trains.
“Evidence suggests that rigorously implementing the mask mandate, limited conversation, short exposure times, and some ventilation dramatically minimize the risk of super-spreader events happening on trains and buses,” Salceda said, citing public health experience in France and Japan.
“Still, we can’t rule out the risks. That is why, if the DOTr really feels the need to allow more people in the trains, we have to exhaust all the other measures that worked in Japan and France. More importantly, we have to be aggressive with sanitation and also introduce scan-and-go type contact tracing in the stations,” Salceda added.
“Let us listen to the doctors on social distancing. Otherwise, what is the point of all the other health standards? At the same time, we need to make sure that transport supply meets transport demand plus social distancing. Conceptually, it’s not hard. It’s arithmetic. But we need to work with the transport sector to find enough supply and if possible, limit the worker demand by letting everyone who can work from home do so,” Salceda said.