BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and MYLA IGLESIAS
CABINET Secretary Karlo Nograles yesterday said additional health protocols will be adopted now that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has allowed starting today more passengers to crowd public utility vehicles as it cut the space for physical distancing between commuters.
Nograles said there will be a stricter enforcement of health protocols in all public utility transportation now that the physical distance between passengers has been reduced from one meter to 0.75 meter effective Monday, September 14.
The reduction was based on the recommendation of the Department of Transportation (DOTr), according to Nograles.
In the Karlos Nograles Live (KNL) program over Facebook, Nograles said that whenever the government amends or removes certain protocols, it replaces it with another measure so as not to compromise the public’s safety and health. He did not elaborate.
The DOTr said the new guideline will allow PUVs to accommodate more passengers, which in turn is expected to boost government efforts to encourage more businesses to reopen so the economy can start recovering.
Existing health protocols will continue to be observed, among them the “No face mask, no face shield, no entry” and the “No talking and no answering calls” policies.
To carry out the optimization of physical distance in public transportation, the DOTr Railways, Road Transport and Infrastructure, Maritime, and Aviation and Airports Sectors will start to roll out gradual implementation on the adjustments of physical distancing inside various transport hubs and public utility vehicles (PUVs).
The gradual reduction of physical distancing will be implemented in phases or after every two weeks: from the present one-meter distance which was enforced last August 19, it will be reduced to 0.75 meters (starting September 14), to 0.5 meters (starting September 28), and to 0.3 meters (starting October 12).
The DOTr said the IATF had initially approved to reduce physical distancing by 0.5 meters.
However, the DOTr Arthur Tugade deemed it prudent and safe to instead gradually reduce it, starting at 0.75. The said protocol is likewise subject to changes should there be any concern after the implementation.
In the railways sector, the adjusted capacity of railway lines based on reduced physical distancing inside trains will be: for the LRT-1: it will gradually increase the passengers per train from 155 in one meter distance, 0.75-meter: 204 passengers; 0.5-meter: 255 passengers; and 0.3-meter: 300 passengers.
For the LRT-2, the one meter-160 passengers ratio will gradually increase to 502 passengers per train.
For MRT-3, the current 153 passengers for the one-meter distance will be increased to 204 passengers at 0.75 meter, 255 passengers at 0.5 meter and 327 passengers per train at 0.3 meter distance.
For the Philippine National Railways, the current 166 passengers per train will increase to 320 passengers at 0.3 meter distance by October this year.
John Batan, DOTr undersecretary for railways, said that apart from consultations with medical experts and simulation activities regarding transmission and exposure, the enforcement of reduced physical distancing on railways was based on the results of a survey of international practice on how railway operators and regulators are handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
The road transportation such as public utility jeepney (PUJs), buses, UV Express will also increase their capacities with the reduced physical distancing.
PUJs will have an increased capacity from one to two passengers or 10 to 12 percent. For buses, an additional one to three passengers will be accommodated in a 2×2 type of bus, and from the 24 to 25 current passenger capacity of a 3×2 type bus, it can now serve up to 36 passengers. Additionally, for UV Express units, there will be an additional one to two passengers that can be served with the reduced physical distancing protocol.
LTFRB has also allowed the opening of 28 more traditional PUJ routes, with 1,159 authorized units to ply in Metro Manila starting today to accommodate more passengers.
In the Maritime sector, Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) said passenger load capacity will also be increased to 75 percent at 0.75 meter distance.