House Ways and Means committee chairman Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda reiterated his earlier recommendation to the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to allow more modes of public transportation to operate and increase the number of available trips.
This is in response to calls from medical societies that the Interagency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases reconsider its recommendation to “optimize” public transport by reducing the required distancing in mass transit.
“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.
Salceda 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, 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,” the solon stressed.
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contracting, we can actually allocate more vehicles to where they are actually needed, as opposed to our current outdated route map.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.
He said 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
Salceda 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.