Mass transport is still possible during the Covid-19 crisis

One of the worst kinds of ossified thinking in the present Lockdown Mindset, from which the Philippine government apparently cannot escape, is that the so-called Enhanced Community Quarantine cannot allow for mass transport vehicles to operate regularly because that would violate “social distancing” and defeat the very purpose of ECQ. To my surprise, even some progressives agree with this mindset. They apparently forgot that just before the NCR-wide lockdown on March 15 (which quickly turned into a Luzon-wide lockdown a day later), mass transport services were already starting to try and implement innovative ways to retool themselves to prevent rampant virus transmission inside public vehicles.

Many of us have seen the Covid-19-ready tricycle schema shown above, which many people had welcomed based on the experience of Pasig under Mayor Vico Sotto’s able leadership but which was promptly shot down by the NTF as a “violation of the IATF guidelines.” Apart from that, we probably also saw pre-lockdown efforts by buses, jeepneys, and metro trains to make similar adjustments, as shown in the photos below–all posted by mainstream media and therefore not a product of my befuddled mind.

So please read the captions below each picture. They form part of my argument against the lockdown, and specifically against the decision to suspend all forms of public mass transport except for special shuttles for medical workers. Also, be aware that even in locked-down Baguio City, with a former general as its current mayor, jeepneys are allowed to play their routes so long as they follow a set of rules related to physical distancing, passenger control, and hours allowed on the road. In short, mass transport is not just possible, it’s actually being allowed in some cities at this time but with some restrictions related to the avowed aims of the lockdown.

First efforts at physical distancing inside jeepneys. We only need stricter observance of wearing masks, sanitizing our hands, and regular decontamination of the vehicle before and after every trip..
A creative solution to the problem of keeping safe distance between passengers, which every regular commuter knows is a challenge because of the frequent speed-ups and sudden stops that will tend to force our butts to slide and crowd each other this way and that. Like the famous Tagalog saying goes: “Kung gusto, maraming paraan. Kung ayaw, maraming dahilan.”
A bus plies its missionary route to ferry healthworkers during the current lockdown. If this can be done to ferry healthworkers, why the heck can’t the same arrangement be done to shuttle other workers and employees on definite routes? Ergo, why can’t we just resume all bus routes while enforcing the same measures as is done in this example?
The same with metro trains. You’d think adopting this arrangement (photo from a Singapore train) for Metro Manila’s MRT and LRT was a most obvious no-brainer. But I hear arguments saying, “Pag-ibahin mo ang Singaporeans at mga Pilipino. Disiplinado sila sa Singapore, samantalang ang Pilipino e walang disiplina.” If that is the only empty argument (actually, an obvious fallacy) you can muster, then you’re not worthy to carry a Philippine passport, and I’d like to violate physical distance and spit on your face if I ever bump into you in person.
This was taken in a Metro Manila light train before the lockdown. It is proof that Filipinos can observe anti-Covid-19 measures if the authorities just have the patience and humane sensibilities to remind them, perhaps give a mask to the person not wearing one in the picture as a matter of courtesy.

The only real challenge in implementing these physical-distancing schemes is that mass transport economics will either assert itself in the form of higher fares, or else the privately operated PUVs (buses, jeeps, and tricycles) will refuse to ply their routes lest they die due to huge revenue losses.

But this challenge will sooner or later confront us anyway. Why not confront it now, why not hold dialogues now with the transport sector, why not explore the possibilities of state subsidy to TODA’s or state equity in transport coops, why not force ourselves to think of practicable solutions now rather than run and hide in fear under the false safety of a lockdown? #

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