Senators warn of ‘commuter crisis,’ lament chaos on first day of GCQ
MANILA, Philippines — A senator on Tuesday warned of a looming “commuter crisis” following the chaos and hardships endured by returning workers due to lack of transportation means as they attempted to go back to their workplaces upon Metro Manila’s transition to general community quarantine (GCQ).
Following months of a strict lockdown, authorities opened up public transportation but only on a limited capacity, resulting in a huge number of Filipinos to get stranded, or be forced to walk back home, while others were able to hitch rides at the backs of trucks.
But Senator Risa Hontiveros said the challenges being faced by commuters should not be part of the country’s “new normal.”
“Hindi dapat maging ‘new normal’ ang mahirap, matagal at delikadong commute para sa ating mga mananakay (The challenging, long, and risky commute or the riding public should not be the ‘new normal’),” she said in a statement.
Hontiveros urged the government to adopt a service contracting program with the transportation sector to avert a “commuter crisis” in GCQ areas.
“The lack of transport options is not just an emerging crisis for commuters, it is also a serious health hazard. Wala ring magagawa ang pag-limit sa pasahero sa mga tren at bus, kung sa kalsada pa lang ay exposed na sila sa health risks habang sila ay nasa mahaba, dikit-dikit at matao na pila (It’s useless to limit the number of rail and bus passengers, if the rest would be out on the road along with many others, exposed to all health risks, while waiting for their turn to ride),” she said.
‘Lack of foresight, insensitivity’
Senator Franklin Drilon, meanwhile, minced no words.
“The chaos and the hardship that our commuters had to endure yesterday was a result of poor planning. It shows the lack of foresight and the insensitivity of the government to the true need of the poor,” Drilon said in a message to reporters.
He said that the Department of Transportation (DOTr) “could have done better.”
“It cannot go on like this. If we are to revive the economy, then we have to make sure that our workers get to their work without compromising their health and that of others. Let’s help our commuters,” he said.
Drilon also called on the private sector to assist their employees and provide them with shuttle services.
“I commend those who have taken this initiative but there are a lot more companies who continue to turn a blind eye to their employees’ needs and welfare,” he noted.
Can’t be part of the ‘new normal’
Like Hontiveros, Senator Grace Poe, meanwhile, called on the government to meet the demand for public transportation without sacrificing the health and safety of the riding public.
“The long lines of commuters in bus stations, workers walking to offices and people scampering to get on every available ride should not be part of the new normal under GCQ,” she said in a statement.
“Clearly, the mass transportation we have now does not meet the surge of people who have come out of quarantine to begin working again to feed their families,” she added.
Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, stressed that the government “must show it is on top of the situation” and take the necessary steps to ensure that more public utility vehicles are available, provided that strict health measures are observed.
“There should be no let-up in our whole-of-society efforts, especially as people begin to move and come into contact with each other,” she said.
“Government capacity should be constantly boosted to track and isolate the sick and their contacts, which are the effective ways of keeping new infections under wrap,” she added.
Hontiveros said that government should soon meet with operators and drivers of buses, jeeps and other public transportation, as proposed by the #MoveAsOne coalition and other advocacy groups.
Under such contracts, operators and drivers will be paid by government a per kilometer fee to ply their routes, she added.
“Subok na ang service contracting, dahil ginawa na ito ng mga local government units para ibyahe ang kanilang mga frontliners sa gitna ng enhanced community quarantine (Service contracting has been tested, because this has been done by LGUs to service frontliners amid the enhanced community quarantine),” the senator said.
“If expanded on a national scale, it will be a great way to immediately increase the passenger capacity of our transport systems in Metro Manila and elsewhere,” she added.
Hontiveros further explained that the scheme would allow the government to better enforce the strict implementation of social distancing and other health guidelines in public transportation vehicles.
She added that the fixed fees for drivers and operators will also remove the hazards attached to the current “boundary system.”
“By adopting service contracting, we can make our public transport options safer and more efficient for the commuting public at the soonest,” she said.
“At siyempre, muli nang makakapaghanap-buhay ang napakaraming operator, driver at ibang manggagawa sa transportation sector na nawalan ng kita dahil sa pandemiya (And of course, operators, drivers and other employees under the transportation sector displaced by the pandemic can will now have a source of income),” she added.
Hontiveros also cited the proposal of the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) that such service arrangements be made on a rotational basis as the government may not have enough funds to enter into service contracts with all transport providers simultaneously.
“Dapat ay wala tayong maiwan na operator o driver lalo na’t marami pa rin sa kanila ang hindi makabyahe sa kanilang mga lugar,” she said.
(There should be no operator or driver left behind especially that a lot of them cannot work in their areas).
“To protect our commuters, the government should coordinate with our transport sector to expand, not limit, our public transport options in the weeks to come,” she added.
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