Relaxed physical distancing in public transport starts Sept. 14

Relaxed physical distancing in public transport will push through beginning Monday, September 14, as guidelines for the new policy has been rolled out, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) said on Saturday, September 12.

In a virtual press conference on Saturday, Transportation Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon said that while the proposal to ease distancing rules between passengers in public transportation has been approved, this will be implemented in all modes of public transport in a "prudent and gradual" manner.

The DOTr said distance between passengers will be initially reduced to 0.75 meters starting next week, below the one-meter distance recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). This will be further adjusted after two weeks to 0.5 meters starting September 28, then to 0.3 meters on October 12, to allow for optimization of ridership.

According to Tuazon, the Economic Development Cluster and health experts also supported the DOTr's proposal to reduce passenger physical distancing requirements in public utility vehicles (PUVs) to a minimum, provided that strict health and safety measures will be observed by commuters. 

These measures include the mandatory wearing of face masks and face shields, and prohibiting passengers from talking or making phone calls while inside public transport, the DOTr said.

Railway sector

For the railway system, Philippine National Railways (PNR) General Manager Junn Magno said the expected increase in passenger capacity is supported by data based on physical simulation.

For Light Rail Transit Line 1 (LRT-1), Magno said the new distancing requirements would increase the allowed capacity from 155 with a one-meter distancing policy to 204 (0.75-meters), 255 (0.5-meters), and 300 (0.3 meters), while for the LRT-2 it will climb from current 160 to 212 (0.75-meters), 274 (0.5 meters) and 502 (0.3-meters).

The Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) passenger capacity would also rise from 153 to 204 (0.75-meter), 255 (0.5-meter) and 286 (0.3-meter), while PNR trains would be able to accommodate 184 (0.75-meter), 256 (0.5-meter) and 320 (0.3-meter) from the current 166. 

Magno emphasized that the current health requirement of one-meter distance must be maintained while on train platforms or while queueing outside the stations.

Designated seating and standing areas inside trains were already marked, while train marshals or conductors will be deployed in each coach of the train to ensure compliance of the policy.

To support the new distancing rules, DOTr Undersecretary TJ Batan noted during the briefing that the Philippines is the only country enforcing the one-meter distancing protocol inside trains according to the International Union of Railways.

Road sector

The latest physical distancing guidelines will also be enforced for the road transport sector including buses, modern and traditional jeepneys, UV Express, taxis, as well as transport network vehicle service (TNVS) units.

DOTr Assistant Secretary Mark Steven Pastor said stringent health protocols will be enforced in all PUVs to avoid transmission of the virus. These include the frequent disinfection of units and the implementation of an automatic fare collection system for contactless transactions.

Through optimizing the physical distance between passengers, the DOTr said that standing passengers may be accommodated for class 2 modern PUVs and buses.

Maritime and aviation sectors

As for airlines and passenger ferries, optimizing the physical distance between passengers will mean more passengers being allowed to enter airports and seaports. 

This will also mean an increase in the passenger load capacity on roll on-roll off passenger vessels from 50 percent with a one-meter distancing policy to 75 percent (0.75-meters), 85 percent (0.5 meters), and 100 percent (0.3 meters).

The rules on the new distancing policy came after the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) approved the proposal pushed by the EDC and the DOTr to increase ridership in public transportation by optimizing or reducing the physical distance between commuters.

Since the enforcement of the general community quarantine, all modes of public transportation have been authorized to operate at a limited capacity to curb the transmission of COVID-19 through lesser physical contact.