Commuters group proposes P110 billion for ‘secure’ post-lockdown public transport
CEBU, Philippines — Public transport at a time of pandemic is a “ticking time-bomb” and the government would do well to prioritize the welfare of commuters to diffuse it once movement restrictions are eased and people troop back to typically congested trains and buses, a commuter group said.
At the heart of AltMobility PH’s proposal is a P110-billion “mobility support package” under a three-stage plan that policymakers may undertake to safely restart public transport, a key sector that was halted for two months under the enhanced community quarantine of Luzon and other key areas starting March 17.
With the government ready to ease some prohibitions come May 16, AltMobility said there is a risk of “massive loss of human life from a second, more severe wave” of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) outbreak if the infamous congestion of public transport is not resolved.
“As health safety measures and physical distancing reduce PUV (public utility vehicles)’s seating capacity by half, many of them will suffer losses even after hours of hard labor,” the group said in a statement that so far garnered support from 57 organizations and 30 individuals.
“Even worse, more than half of them may lose jobs as public transport operators shut down due to unprofitable operations,” it added.
The proposals from the group come at the most opportune time when the government is still busy evaluating its options on how to restart train systems and jeepneys, without triggering typical congestion that at this time, could be a recipe for a widespread COVID-19 contagion. AltMobility estimates that returning to the old ways post-lockdown would easily cost the economy P520 billion.
Foremost on AltMobility’s suggestions is investing P30 billion in a “safe public transport system” which would be used to ensure “stable” pay of PUV drivers and operators despite the limited number of passengers that they would be allowed to carry.
The proposal essentially targets drivers of jeepneys and tricycles, who are among the poorest members of the society and among those which would be allowed to return to the streets in areas where lockdown measures would be totally lifted, and those under a general community quarantine.
An additional P10 billion is proposed to be invested on “active transport infrastructures,” including “wider sidewalks, dedicated bike lanes, urban tree shades and safe walkable streets.” “Our people have a right to nothing less than streets which are safe for users of all ages— from our children to our grandparents,” it said.
However the longer-term project, and the bulk of the funding worth P70 billion, should be put to use over the next three years to improve road transport systems, such as bus stops, bus-only lanes and terminals that would facilitate easier access to public transport.
As it is, AltMobility’s proposals centered highly on eradicating “decades of car-centered policies” that, the group believes, have clogged roads and “oppressed” majority of the public who commute to work.
If followed to the letter, AltMobility estimates P373 billion worth of benefits from better public transport, a potential economic return in the form of shortened travel time (P168 billion), avoiding job losses (P78 billion) and reduction in road accidents (P53 billion).
“We must incentivize people to choose active and public transport instead of private vehicles,” the group said. Philstar.com (FREEMAN)