Commuters returning to work after a two-month lockdown waited long hours for rides that never came on the first day that Metro Manila shifted to a general community quarantine (GCQ), which eased restrictions imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Celine Pialago, acknowledged that public transportation was insufficient, but said the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) was working to ensure that more vehicles would be available in the coming days for commuters.
Under the GCQ, buses along EDSA only had four drop-off points, but commuters who did not know this gathered in other bus stops.
Pialago said commuters who are far from the identified bus stops in North Avenue and Quezon Avenue in Quezon City, Ayala Avenue in Makati and Taft Avenue in Pasay City would have to take the MRT for now.
The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) had earlier authorized 300 buses to operate on EDSA to augment urban train service of the MRT-3 and LRT. They formed long lines at both ends of the highway at Quezon City and Pasay City, as they could only leave on a set schedule.
Taxis, ride-hailing cars, shuttle services and bicycles are also allowed to operate at limited capacity from June 1 to 21, the first phase of public transport resumption.
For the second phase, from June 22 to June 30, public utility buses, modern jeepneys and UV express vans will be allowed to operate.
Labor groups assailed the government for its failure to provide adequate public transportation to thousands of workers on the first day of the GCQ, causing chaos and confusing workers who scrambled to get to work.
The Nagkaisa Labor coalition said they were disappointed with Department of Transportation (DOTr) for its failure to perform its primary mandate to provide "efficient, and dependable transportation systems” during the first day of GCQ.
In a statement, Partido Juan Manggagawa chairman Sonny Matula said physical distancing was completely compromised as commuters waited for transport services.
“For many, the wait was in vain as the MMDA did not provide bus stops from Quezon Avenue to Ayala Avenue,” he said.
“In its rush to jump start a stalled economy without due consideration to the safety and welfare of workers, the national government has once again succeeded in heaping more unnecessary burdens to the working class,” Matula said.
“Worse, with this transport fiasco, the DOTr and the MMDA risk wasting all the sacrifices forced on everyone for more than two months of lockdown to stop Covid-19,” he said.
He said that all these could have been avoided had the national government provided “safe and free” transportation by implementing service contracting of PUVs that could have augmented the limited public transportation available.
He said the Move As One coalition proposed service contracting of PUVs to transport workers.
Under service contracting, the government pays the operators and drivers to run pre-determined routes to ferry workers. This is far different from the prevailing “boundary system,” in which earnings are based on the number of passengers ferried.
Senator Grace Poe on Monday urged the government to provide public transportation to returning workers now that Metro Manila and nearby provinces are under a GCQ.
"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," Poe said.
Clearly, she said, the mass transportation the country has does not meet the surge of people who have come out of quarantine to begin working again to feed their families.
"Government must show it is on top of the situation and take the necessary action to make available more public utility vehicles without compromising safety," said Poe.
"We also urge companies and businesses to maximize the work-from-home scheme, to help lessen the number of people who will need to go out and take mass transportation," she added.
Earlier, MMDA general manager Jose Arturo Garcia Jr. said public utility buses and jeepneys would be difficult to monitor for physical distancing and other quarantine requirements, given that they drop off and pick up passengers along the road.
Garcia said the point-to-point (P2P) bus services were allowed to operate since these can easily be monitored by authorities. P2P buses ferry passengers straight to their destination, with no pickups en route.
Meanwhile, Quezon City Rep. Precious Castelo urged the IATF to allow back-riding on motorcycles for couples in Metro Manila.
“I think the government should not apply the ban on married couples riding together using their motorcycle as means of transportation in going to their workplaces or to the grocery to buy household essentials,” Castelo said.
“But if they can sleep together, dine together, why can’t they travel together?” she said.
Castelo added that it would be safer for couples to ride together on their motorcycle than to take the bus, where passengers would be at risk of getting the virus even with physical distancing.
Castelo pointed out that allowing couples to use motorcycles would ease passenger demand for and congestion on buses. Before the pandemic, motorcycles comprised 36 percent of public transportation, she said.
The Gabriela Women’s Party also urged the government to allow jeepneys, buses and other mass transport services to resume operations during the GCQ to help cash-strapped Filipinos to report again for work.
The Department of Transportation fended off criticism, saying that providing transport under a GCQ was a public health issue more than a public transportation issue.
“The threat is still here. And in this time of pandemic, health and safety must be of higher importance than comfort and convenience,” the department said in a statement.
“As mentioned by Secretary Arthur Tugade, while the mandate of the DOTr is to provide transportation, mobility and convenience, we are likewise vested with the responsibility to the people to help abate the spread of COVID-19.
“We do not want public transportation to become transmission vectors of the disease. Hence, the resumption of transportation entails a calculated, gradual, and partial approach if it is to regain its moniker as the lifeblood of the economy, not as an instrument of death,” the statement read.
Also on Monday, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) called on all public utility jeepneys to participate in the Busina Balik-Pasada nationwide protest action on Monday, at around 10 a.m. There were pockets of protests, but were a far cry from the nationwide transport strikes that PUJ drivers staged in the past. With Maricel V. Cruz and Willie Casas