The latest in the saga of woes inflicted on the commuting public is a consolation of sorts: the suspension of the mandatory use of the automated fare collection system on the Edsa Busway. A dual payment system through cash or Beep card is in effect “until the issue is resolved,” per the Sunday announcement of the Department of Transportation (DOTR)— consuelo de bobo for commuters, particularly in Metro Manila, who have been enduring untold hardship since the government imposed the lockdown in March. Aninsufficient information drive did not preparecommuters for the Oct. 1 launch of the cashless payment system on the Edsa Busway, resulting in even longer queues and setting them back by up to P180 for a Beep card (P80) and load (P100). It added to the hassles afflicting the thousands upon thousands who commute to get to their workplaces or to do important errands—a daily ordeal that can only be imagined, if they deign to, by government officials who make the decisions crucial to life in these parts.
But the suspension merely provides breathing space for commuters. At this writing, AF Payments Inc. is not backtracking on the cost of the Beep cards it is supplying, and free stored-value cards that may also be used in trains and point-to-point buses cannot yet be expected to fall like manna from heaven. The issue is still being discussed on Mount Olympus, so to speak. (And a great number are still awaiting SAP “ayuda” despite the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s billions in unspent funds.)
What other measures can the government be thinking of imposing on commuters without benefit of thorough study, due consideration of prevailing circumstances, and consultation with all parties involved? It wasn’t too long ago that the National Task Force Against COVID-19 dreamed up the barrier separating drivers and passengers on motorcycles and required its installation despite the preposterousness of the idea especially when applied to couples and other family members, as well as the contention of experts that it is aerodynamically dangerous. Hard-up Filipinos who use a motorcycle to get to and from work—and they are the majority compared to those merely committed to the zen of easy riding— had to produce at least P600 to purchase and install the barrier and thus be able to engage in pillion riding without fear of being penalized. Yet within weeks, after all the hue and cry and (big) expense, the Joint Task Force COVID Shield deemed the barrier no longer necessary.
Commuters have generally been compliant with the protocols required to fight the pandemic. The absence of physical distancing on the streets that government officials decry and automatically conclude as “pasaway” behavior—as when commuters break a queue to crowd around a public utility vehicle and jostle with one another to get on board—is obviously born of desperation of getting a ride to make it to work or back home by the skin of their teeth. Even now when more and more business enterprises are resuming operations, the limited volume of public utility vehicles allowed to ply routes is simply not enough to provide a ride for those who urgently need it.
Consider the idled jeepneys and their drivers, most of them able-bodied men who know no other means of making a living and are literally driven to beg in the streets for food. Early in the pandemic, six jeepney drivers, including a 72-year-old, publicly protested their loss of livelihood—and were arrested and clapped in jail for supposedly violating health regulations. They were held behind bars for almost a week before being released on bail, which was raised through the kindness of strangers.
That was in June. As of mid-september, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board has allowed the redeployment of only 18,000 jeepneys, meaning that two-thirds of more than 55,000 drivers in Metro Manila remain withoutworkand income, and an estimated 1.7 millioncommuterscontinue tobeunderserved. Confusion was added to the grim situation early last month when officials decided to reduce the required physical distance between commuters in an apparent effort at near-normalcy; again, the decision was rescinded within days.
Yet the sound recommendation from experts that all jeepneys be allowed back in the streets, so that the required distance between commuters can be maintained, continues to be ignored.
It’s hardly surprising that on Sept. 29, 16 jeepney drivers from the cities of Mandaluyong and Manila and the National Confederation of Transport Workers’ Union took matters in their hands and asked the Supreme Court to void government orders during thepandemicthat gave them least priority vis-à-vis drivers of other public utility vehicles. They said these orders were discriminatory and violated, among others, equal protection under the law.
Not only jeepney drivers but also commuters are banking on the wisdom of the court of last resort.
Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 7, 2020