By Alexandria Dennise San Juan
Public transportation will resume in moderate and low-risk areas under the general community quarantine (GCQ) beginning May 1, but at reduced capacity for safety measures amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) announced on Thursday (April 30).
However, all modes of mass transit will remain suspended in areas where the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) has been extended, only allowing transport for health workers and other essential personnel.
“Under GCQ, there will be a gradual re-opening of certain activities in the economy, and this will necessitate the gradual opening and operation also of public transportation at a reduced capacity and in accordance with the guidelines set by the DOTr and following the protocols of Department of Health,” Transportation Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon Jr. said in a virtual press conference.
Upon the resumption of transportation in areas declared under the more relaxed GCQ, the DOTr has vowed it will “strictly impose health safety standards at all times” to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers.
With the issuance of the guidelines a day before its implementation, the DOTr told all public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers and operators to adhere to the three essential components of the protocols — safety, capacity, and coverage.
“Safety refers to guidelines that reduce contact, transmission, and spread of the virus through the mandatory use of face masks and gloves for drivers. Thorough disinfecting practices of vehicles, terminals, and even among passengers are also required,” the Department said in a statement.
According to the DOTr, all PUVs that resume their operations are required to undergo disinfection “after every round trip,” while a “no face mask, no travel” policy will be imposed on both drivers and passengers to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
The DOTr also assured the public that it will strictly monitor the capacity and passenger load of all PUVs to observe physical distancing inside the vehicles, as well as in waiting and queueing areas.
Under the latest guideline, the passenger load for public utility buses and jeepneys should not exceed 50 percent or half of the vehicle’s capacity, excluding driver and conductor.
“For UV Express and taxis, the passenger load should not exceed two passengers per row, except for the driver’s row where only one passenger is allowed,” the DOTr continued.
In the same briefing, Tuazon said allowing tricycles to operate will be subject to the consent of their respective local government units (LGUs), but should only allow one person in the side-car per trip while back riding will not be allowed.
For private vehicle owners, the DOTr explained that private cars and motorcycles will be allowed to operate for the “purpose of essential travels as defined by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF).”
“Cars will only be allowed one passenger to occupy the front passenger seat, while front-facing seats shall not exceed two passengers per row. Motorcycles are prohibited from having back ride passengers,” it added.
To further reduce physical contact inside PUVs, Tuazon said the department has also recommended the use of an automatic fare collection system.
“The use of an automatic fare collection system will be encouraged to limit the amount of physical contact between the commuter and the driver or conductor. If this is not available, they should require the passengers to pay first before boarding,” the DOTr official said.
Private vehicle owners, PUV drivers and operators, and private or public transport terminal operators who will violate the guidelines will be sanctioned and penalized, the department warned.
The LTFRB, Land Transportation Office, Inter-Agency Council on Traffic, and authorized personnel of the IATF will conduct daily random inspections in terminals and depots to ensure strict compliance with the service, sanitary, and operational requirements of the guidelines.
The DOTr added that it is seeking assistance from enforcement agencies such as the Philippine National Police and LGUs to help ensure that social distancing and sanitation rules are being observed in terminals and vehicles in their areas.