New transport rules take effect Monday; more jeepney routes to open

MANILA, Philippines : The Department of Transportation (DOTr) insisted on Saturday that it would implement the reduced physical distancing requirement in public transportation starting Sept. 14 so more people can go to work despite warnings from the Department of Health (DOH).

At the same time, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), an agency under the DOTr, also announced that it would reopen 28 more jeepney routes in the cities of Quezon City, Manila, Makati and Muntinlupa, served by 1,159 jeepneys, on Sept. 14.

Transportation Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon said the basis for reducing physical distancing in trains and other public utility vehicles were the increasing demand for public transportation and the recommendation of medical experts.

“We have conducted a number of studies with medical experts, which we presented twice to the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases),” Tuazon told a press briefing on Saturday.

Tuazon did not identify the medical experts who made the recommendation, but he insisted that the DOH, which cochairs the IATF, was present in both meetings and the IATF approved the DOTr proposal on Sept. 7. The proposal was backed by the Cabinet’s Economic Development Cluster.

But on Friday, health officials, including former Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit, raised some concerns over the eased physical distancing requirements as well as a plan to prohibit home confinement for mild and asymptomatic COVID-19 cases.

Tuazon, however, insisted that “no one can change this policy but the IATF,” and they “felt the need to implement this now because this will help our commuters.”

Besides, Assistant Transportation Secretary Goddes Libiran said that health and sanitary protocols, such as hand disinfection, thermal checks and the wearing of face mask and face shield, would still be strictly enforced.

“If there’s a spike in COVID-19 cases [because of the policy], [it] is subject to change depending on the resulting infections,” Libiran said. “If there will be any concern after implementation, concerned agencies can talk about it during regular IATF meetings.”

The new policy, according to LTFRB Chair Martin Delgra, would allow more commuters to get to work faster.

The LTFRB has been gradually reopening jeepney routes in Metro Manila since June 1 to respond to the increasing demand of workers, employers as well as public transport operators.

For buses, this could mean an increase of one to three passengers for buses with 2×2 coaches, and six to eight more passengers for 2×3-coach type buses.

With the new policy, standing passengers may also be accommodated in modern jeepneys and buses and the reopening of some routes will bring to 17,000 the number of jeepneys allowed on the road.

Jeepney operators would not be required to obtain a special permit to return to their routes but their vehicles must display on their front windshields a printed copy of the QR code that operators would have to download from the LTFRB website.

By: Mariejo S. Ramos – Philippine Daily Inquirer

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