MOTORCYCLE taxi operators are set to resume their operations in Metro Manila, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro once minimum health and safety protocols that will guide the use of the modern mode of public transportation are put in place by the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19 and the Department of Transportation (DOTr).
Under Memorandum Circular No. 03 issued by the NTF, the DOTr has been authorized to resume the pilot study on the viability of using motorcycle units as a mode of public transportation to ease public commuting woes of the riding public.
The circular requires the NTF and the DOTr to come with the necessary health measures to reduce the possible transmission of the coronavirus from rider to passenger, and to implement and monitor the same while the pilot program is underway.
In virtual press briefings, transportation assistance secretary for road transport and infrastructure Mark Steven Pastor said the DOTr will issue guidelines on the duration of the pilot study, which will run from three to six months similar to the first pilot study that was conducted prior to the lockdowns imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Edgar Galvante, DOTr assistant secretary, said that motorcycle taxi operators Angkas, JoyRide and Move-It will meet with transportation officials this week to thresh out final details about their resumption of operations and to ensure their compliance with all safety procedures required by the government.
Galvante said that as soon as operators have shown compliance to all the required provisions, they will already be given the green light to go back to the streets.
Safety measures that are already in place include the use of an NTF-approved barrier, cashless transactions, non-sharing of helmets, and the use of facemask and helmets with full face visor that will act as a face shield. All riders must own professional driver’s licenses and submit daily health updates prior to work hours, among many others.
Galvante said: “The sooner that the motorcycle taxi company can comply with these requirements, then the sooner their bikers can operate on the streets.”
George Royeca, Angkas chief transport advocate, said the company is ready to resume operation anytime: “We are fully compliant and we are submitting all the compliance requirements to the DOTr and the Congress TWG today (Tuesday).”
Angkas has already prepared 23,000 riders for NCR; 4,500 for Cebu; and 900 for CDO. Currently, 3,000 of these bikers have already undergone RT-PCR testing, with all of them yielding negative results.
About a fifth of workers in the National Capital Region (NCR) have no means to go to work even as the economy is gradually reopening because public transport capacity remains limited, Karl Kendrick Chua, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) acting secretary, said in a virtual conference yesterday.
Chua said the easing of quarantine measures have not opened up the economy to its expected capacity because there is insufficient public transport options in place for the working public.
“One thing that we noticed in the last three or four months, is that while we relaxed the quarantine levels, we were not able to see the people go back to work. And one reason for this is the lack of public transportation,” Chua said at the opening session of the 58th Philippine Economic Society Annual Meeting and Conference held yesterday.
Chua said that in the NCR, 65.4 percent of the economy was opened in terms of workers allowed to go back to work.
However, Chua estimates that as of last month, only 45.9 percent of the regional economy have effectively opened due to reduced vehicle capacity per the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases’ guidelines and low operator turnout.
“What that means is 19.5 percent of the workers in the NCR were not able to go out to work, although this I think has improved this month following new policies by the Department of Transportation,” Chua said.
“So, the 19.5 percent of NCR workers are either working from home or walking or not working. This is something we want to watch closely,” he added.
Chua said that a relaxed quarantine status, in this case, a general community quarantine, without optimizing public transport will not really open up the economy as workers cannot go to work.
“This also means shifting to modified general community quarantine will hardly improve the economy,” Chua said.
“A lower quarantine level, does not really open up the economy, unless we open the public transport sufficiently and safely,” he added.
Chua also mentioned that based on Google data, visits to public transport are still down by around 55 percent, while people actually going to work is also down by around 35 percent.
Chua also said that in a recent World Bank, NEDA and Department of Finance study, the lack of public transport has been mentioned by the respondents as the number one reason for decreased demand for products and services, as customers cannot travel to establishments to purchase products or services, as a response of around 70 percent.
More than half of firms, as Chua pointed out, also said that the nature of work is not suitable for home-based work, therefore reinforcing the need for more public transportation.
Meanwhile, Chua also said in his speech that quarantine restrictions prevent the economy from fully recovering and higher quarantine will be expensive “for the government because of the amounts of subsidies that we will have to be giving, and also to the people in terms of meeting their daily needs, and other health problems.”
“We propose, and this was accepted, to consider escalation of quarantine level only as a last resort. So, if COVID-19 cases are rising, we will still maintain the current quarantine level and implement stricter protocols, or more localized quarantine instead of putting an entire region or province in quarantine,” he said. – With Angela Celis