There is some good news coming out of the information flows that gladden the heart as we enter the half-way point of 2021 after a series of lockdowns due to Covid-19. There are hopeful signs that people are starting to emerge from the solitary confinements posed by the “stay at home” orders that have locked up schools, churches, businesses, theatres, museums, etc.
This development has been brought about mainly by the efficacy of the vaccines that have emerged to counter the virus and the decreasing number of new cases and hospitalizations that resulted as more and more people are vaccinated.
In the United States where the number of people who have received at least one dose have exceeded more than 50 percent of the population, sports arenas are opening up to crowds, movie theatres are once again in business, restaurants that have suffered greatly due to the quarantine are welcoming diners again and airline traffic has resumed to almost pre-pandemic levels.
According to an Associated Press report, “Philippine officials have allowed the reopening of gyms, skating rinks, racket courts and museums in metropolitan Manila and adjacent provinces as a coronavirus surge continues to ease. Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez says Filipinos 65 years old and above who have been restricted to home can now travel within the densely populated capital region two weeks after having been fully vaccinated.” Even our school authorities are trying to get into the swing of things by broaching the idea that face-to-face or in-school attendance could resume again by September 2020 once students and teachers got vaccinated.
Highly optimistic indeed, but perhaps short on reality check—by last week it was reported that only two percent of Filipinos have been vaccinated given the vaccination drive that has been going on these past months. Nonetheless, the hope that things would go back to some kind of “normal” is pretty enticing and a salve to the mind in these pandemic times. But more so, we have to get our act together as a nation and for the government to act accordingly if things do improve and as we recover from this pandemic when millions of our citizens: students, workers, travelers, etc., hit the streets again and life and business and everything else emerge into the post-pandemic era.
This brings us to our main point. If Filipinos troop back to work, school, business or leisure as they have done before Covid-19, how will our transport system which has been ravaged and altered by the numerous lockdowns, quarantine restrictions, physical and systemic changes as well as manpower requirements be able to transition from restricted movement of selected sectors/ groups to open and accessible mass transportation?
The case in point is EDSA and I can just imagine the problems that would ensue once the estimated 2 million daily commuters coming from outside Metro Manila as well as the 12 million residents of Metro Manila itself stir themselves up and resume their business or errands of the day. There are some improvements going on in EDSA (Metro Manila’s most travelled thoroughfare) for sure and they portend to be for the better. The most significant thing accomplished was the creation of the EDSA busway in which a dedicated bus lane was built in the inner lane of the entire 24-kilometer stretch from Pasay City to Caloocan City. An estimated 36,000 concrete barriers were used making the lane a permanent fixture of this highway aimed at speeding up travel in public buses and freeing the sidewalks from the perennial problem of buses lining up and waiting for passengers and clogging up intersections and traffic.
The EDSA Busway is run on a service contracting arrangement where the government collects the fares’ revenue and the private sector bus operators would be paid according to the number of kilometers traveled by each bus, with incentives and penalties depending on performance. Vehicles would be monitored using GPS vehicle-tracking systems. Contracts of five to seven years duration would include agreements to replace existing vehicles with BRT buses within a given period. Things do look good on paper but initial complaints coming from commuters, according to one columnist, indicated, “… not enough buses for commuters at all times of the day and night… (particularly) the commuting situation at the EDSA Carousel bus lane on weekends, specifically at night…has gotten to a very EXASPERATING point…” This goes to show that our transportation authorities and the Government as a whole has to prepare for the “new normal” which would not be very far from the “usual normal” when it comes to the masses of people out in our streets. The clean and straightaway look of the EDSA Busway is a sight to see but will it hold? Will it be able to handle the volumes which are treble if not ten times that it is serving now?
There is no doubt that an effective, sustainable mass transportation system is the key to economic growth; the sure path out of this pandemic if we want the country to normalize and recover what has been lost due to the long-running quarantines that we have been through. We have a lot of work ahead of us and the first thing that needs to be addressed is an efficient and working transportation.