Hitting the Road Up North

With Metro Manila being declared under General Enhanced Quarantine (GEC) starting June 1, 2020, we expect motorists to once again repopulate our deserted streets and for the hustle and bustle of our city to pick up thereafter.  For those of us itching to go out of the confines of our home, the destinations to the north may be more than inviting for the intrepid driver with, of course, the attendant health restrictions and guidelines considered.   I myself made that out-of-town trek two weeks before the country went into a general lockdown due to the pandemic. I remember taking that quick trip to Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan and before returning to Manila, decided to scour the province of Pampanga for the best sisig, the yummiest halo-halo and the renowned Kapampangan delicacies to take back home.  The long trip was pleasant and worry-free as the road network consisting of  the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) –  Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) and Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX), made it so easy to just hop in the car, step on the gas and traverse these highways to get you to a place for that quick out-of-town respite. 

                The driver-friendly transformation of our road network going up North is actually a game changer particularly for those who have to make a regular commute to Central Luzon such as my friend, Chris Macomb, a Subic resident, who had to make the trip almost daily to his company’s  main office in Manila from their satellite office in Subic Bay Freeport Zone.  What normally would take seven hours in the past now only takes half that in traveling time.  Thus, saving him gas money and the usual wear-and-tear associated with the regular use of his vehicle.  Though Chris is thankful for this efficient infrastructure, he laments the lack of medics during the two times he got into a car accident along SCTEX.  In both instances, it was the highway patrol who assisted him and only offered to call the nearby hospitals for ambulance as there were no medics around to help.

With safety high on people’s minds due to this pandemic, it is a relevant point to consider then what the NLEX, SCTEX and TPLEX management have lined up for the motoring public now that they are likely to venture out for businesses and therefore, vehicle traffic in the region starts to perk up. I asked J. Luigi Bautista, president and general manager of NLEX Corporation about the preparations they are doing for the new normal.  According to him, the company has instituted Rapid Antibody Testing for the COVID 19 virus covering all its 1,600 employees. “Those who are cleared and found to be negative for the virus are allowed to face our customers. Those who tested positive are made to undergo treatment. NLEX has done this in partnership with hospitals under the Manny V. Pangilinan  (MVP) Group of companies in which NLEX and SCTEX are also members,“ he emphasized. 

     Moreover, the company, even before the entire Luzon was placed under the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), has been implementing intensified cleaning, disinfection, and sanitation measures in its office premises, toll booths, and company vehicles to uphold the safety of both their  employees and motorists. All personnel have been provided face shields, masks, and gloves, especially to those who regularly face customers (tellers, patrol crews, customer service personnel, rescue teams). Everyone is required to wear a mask before entering office buildings and other facilities as well. “We continue to keep the number of employees to a minimum by implementing flexible work schedules including work-from-home arrangements. We have formulated a manpower deployment scheme so we can limit if not eliminate exposure of our operations and support groups to the virus while maintaining a safe, secure and healthy working space for everyone,” he said.

All these measures have been taken to ensure motorists’ safety and health, according to Bautista.  “What we have undertaken for our employees will also benefit our motorists as they can be assured that only healthy employees interact with them.”  As safety measures, NLEX has equipped their  front liners with appropriate gears so motorists will feel safe when they face their employees. Aside from the above-mentioned efforts, Bautista added  that  they have also installed protective curtains/transparent barriers at our toll booths and customer service centers (CSCs) to protect both our personnel and customers. For motorists who will visit their CSCs, they will have to undergo thermal checking, foot bath, and hand sanitation. Signs and floor markings have also been installed to remind motorists of physical distancing guidelines.  Speaking of how his company is planning to rebound after this pandemic period, Bautista said that apart from improving safety, they are continuing their infrastructure projects which include NLEX Harbor Link C3-R10 Section, NLEX Connector, and Subic Freeport Expressway Capacity Expansion. “All these are geared towards boosting productivity, easing travel time of motorists, and helping the country revitalize the economy after this crisis,” he stressed.

For people who have been cooped up inside their homes for two and a half months, it is very tempting to drive out of town and see the world again. I cannot blame you but please make sure that you also have a face mask protection and follow all the necessary precautions when you do.  In the language of public health, our motoring public should bear in mind the need to think and act in the context of “harm reduction” which is about lessening the negative social and/or physical consequences associated with various human behaviors. And as to what still needs to be done to better our experience on the road itself,  Macomb, who as a regular commuter using NLEX and SCETX,  suggests  the repair of uneven roads that causes accidents; putting additional lamp posts along areas near mountains and farm lands; add more patrol to police the highway especially late at night and during the wee hours of the morning and lastly, to replace expensive 3rd party tow truck providers.  As for this writer, I really am just looking forward to my next long, relaxing and hassle-free drive up North. 

The author may be reached at [email protected]

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