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By Leila B. Salaverria

Anger mounted in Metro Manila on Tuesday over lack of public transportation for workers allowed to return to their jobs after three months of quarantine, with senators calling the situation an emerging crisis and slamming transportation officials for their insensitivity and lack of foresight.

Sen. Nancy Binay dared transportation officials to try commuting amid the limited number of public utility vehicles allowed on the road, and said they seemed to be favoring a particular segment by banning jeepneys—the backbone of public transportation in the country.

Since the coronavirus quarantine in Metro Manila was eased Monday to revive the economy, scores of commuters have been lining the roads during rush hours waiting for public vehicles, some scrambling and jostling with each other to get on trucks offering free rides.

Limited capacity

Jeepneys, UV Express vans, and most public utility buses remain prohibited, even though more businesses were allowed to resume operations.

Transport officials allowed the three metro trains, so-called augmentation buses, and Philippine National Railways to operate at limited capacity to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that causes the severe respiratory disease COVID-19.

They allowed taxis and ride-hailing company cars to return to the road, requiring them to operate on apps for cashless transactions.

Transport officials refused to allow jeepneys and UV Express vans to go back to their routes because these vehicles accept fare only in cash, which is the only way the majority of commuters—the low-income earners who don’t own smartphones—pay for their rides.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) have been talking about replacing the jeepneys with so-called modernized jeepneys—actually minibuses that look not the least like the “King of the Road” that has become an icon of Philippine tourism and don’t serve inner-city routes along which many big and small businesses are located.

The ban on jeepneys and city buses backfired on the government’s economic reopening plan, with thousands of workers again failing to get to their jobs or begging for rides on Tuesday and transport officials not backing down.

No clear plan for commuters

Binay said DOTr officials failed to lay down a clear plan for the commuting public, causing chaos, misery and confusion.

“Three months under [quarantine] and still they have no clear plan in place. What happened to foresight? It’s good they have air-conditioned vehicles. Why don’t the DOTr officials try to commute from their homes to their offices?” Binay said.

The full story in today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer print edition