MANILA, Philippines — With a second enhanced community quarantine starting on Monday, all modes of public transportation are expected to continue unhampered by the uniform curfews, albeit at drastically scaled back capacity, transportation officials disclosed Sunday.
"Movement of persons shall be limited to essential purpose or activities, and authorized persons outside of residences," the coronavirus task force's guidelines on enhanced community quarantine read.
Memories of the pandemic's earlier transport woes are still fresh. The first ECQ in March saw a return of the familiar transport pitfalls that commuter groups have long bemoaned in the country's public transportation system: long lines at public transportation hubs and extreme congestion on major thoroughfares.
In the absence of transportation, thousands of Filipinos, some of them healthcare frontliners, were forced to walk to work or learn to bike, in a pandemic that requires social distancing.
Transport advocates with the Move as One coalition have cast fear over a repeat of this scenario, urging the national government in a letter to ensure sufficient capacity for the one week of ECQ.
Road, rail transport
At a press briefing Sunday evening, ranking officials of the Department of Transportation said all passengers of public transportation would be screened for documents proving they are authorized persons outside residences or APORs before allowing them on board.
According to DOTr Undersecretary for rails TJ Batan, passenger capacity will be cut back to 20-30% from the 50% imposed earlier, while the Holy Week maintenance schedule in all operating lines will also be retained.
The limits are:
- Light Rail Transit-Line1: 370 passengers per train set
- Light Rail Transit-Line 2: 274 passengers per train set
- Metro Rail Transit-Line 3: 372 passengers per train set
- Philippine National Railways: 310 passengers per train set
"We're expecting lower ridership due to the closing of operations of Holy Week and the restrictions of ECQ," Batan said in mixed Filipino and English. "But for our APORs, we will still serve them."
Transportation Assistant Secretary Steve Pastor said that the road sector would impose a 50% maximum allowable capacity for all public utility vehicles, including all buses, taxis, tricycles, and jeepneys, while no fare increases will be imposed for the ECQ period.
Pastor added that no substantial changes would be imposed, as the road sector would be strictly implementing existing protocols including:
- A one-seat-apart arrangement required of operators regardless of the presence of plastic barriers
- PUVs are also required to have markings on seats to highlight the requirement.
- Public utility buses may only take on point-to-point trips and may only service authorized persons outside residences or APORs.
- Pastor added that enforcement operations, including daily random inspections at terminals, will still be carried out by the Inter-Agency Council for Traffic.
- The Philippine National Police will be in charge of apprehending and penalizing violators, the department added.
- Illegal motorcycle taxi services, or habal-habal, are still prohibited.
Asked about the department's expected demand for the ECQ period, Pastor said that the public should stay home and cooperate with the government. "We're hoping for cooperation so we can go back to general community quarantine," he said.
Pastor also pointed to the benefits of the department's service contracting program. However, many drivers and operators are not yet part of the program, and it is not yet clear how much of the 74,000 jeepney units idled by the suspension of public transportation will be allowed back on the road.
- For the aviation sector, Civil Aeronautics Board executive director Carmelo Arcilla said that international inbound passenger capacity at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport will remain limited at the maximum of 1,500 passengers per day.
- Arcilla added that domestic commercial operations will be allowed subject to compliance with restrictions on capacity, while all airlines are required to observe minimum health protocols including immediate notification of flight statuses to passengers.
- Philippine Ports Authority General Manager Jay Santiago said that maritime transport would also continue serving the public at 50% capacity subject to stricter health protocols and other requirements imposed by local governments later on.
- "We're asking for understanding from the public. We will not be allowing them inside vessels or facilities if they are not APORs," Santiago said. "This isn't just about enforcement. We're hoping for the public's cooperation."
Across all modes, the "seven public transport commandments" still apply, the department said.
- Required wearing of face masks and face shields
- No talking
- No eating
- Required ventilation of vehicles
- Frequent disinfection of units
- No passengers with symptoms allowed
- Physical and social distancing between passengers
As of the health department's latest tally Sunday afternoon, over 721,000 infections have been recorded in the Philippines after health authorities recorded 9,475 additional COVID-19 cases—marking the third straight day that the Philippines saw more than 9,000 additional COVID-19 infections.
It has been 376 days since the enhanced community quarantine was first hoisted in Luzon. The Philippines is still under the world's longest lockdown.
— Franco Luna
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