First the bad news. The country recorded 9,595 new COVID-19 infections, pushing the total to 712,442 last March 27, Saturday, the Department of Health’s case bulletin said. It also reported that the country’s positivity rate is just a few points below the all-time high of 23.8% recorded in April 4 last year which in plain language means that the pandemic is on a new wave of infections, particularly made more dangerous as new virus mutations have been reported present in many of our communities and the prospect of getting a vaccine for the ordinary citizen is still far off the horizon – this as stated in the press by our health authorities and the vaccine tsar.
So, what is its impact on the transport sector now that we are back to square one? The Department of Transportation (DOTr) for its part, announced new guidelines covering public transportation as Metro Manila and nearby provinces have been placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). The ECQ which is the strictest quarantine level will last from Holy Monday, March 29, to Easter Sunday, April 4 and covers Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, and Cavite, or the “NCR Plus” bubble. The result, for public utility jeepneys and buses, is the reduction to 50% of the vehicle’s capacity, excluding the driver and the conductor. The DOTr added that the one-seat-apart rule in between passengers, with no standing passengers, must be observed.
Moreover, tricycles are only allowed one passenger in the sidecar and that there should be no passenger seated right behind the driver. Their operations should be approved by the Department of the Interior and Local Government and local government units (LGUs). UV Express vehicles, meanwhile, are only allowed a maximum of two passengers per row. They should not exceed 50% of capacity as well. In addition, taxis and ride-hailing vehicles are only allowed two passengers per row and one beside the driver and motorcycle taxis are only allowed to be used by authorized persons outside of residences (APOR).
The renewed restrictions on public transportation begs the question as to what can the day-time commuter do as they continue to be required to report to work or conduct their business in various parts of the metropolis. There seems to be no provision as to alternative means of transportation such as military trucks or emergency vehicles to help the stranded or hapless citizens get from home to work. With the cash grants under the series of Bayanihan laws now exhausted, many of our urban poor are put in dire straits as the ECQ takes its toll on their livelihoods and/or sources of income. Last year’s shutdowns have not been as drastically felt because the cash assistance for poor families have cushioned the quarantine blows. It is different this time, and our authorities have to do something to lessen the suffering of the millions of our countrymen.
Now for some bit of good news. In the car manufacturing front, Volkswagen, one of the world’s leading car manufacturers is going big on electric cars. The company’s electric vehicle sales tripled last year to 230,000 units: according to some analysts, Volkswagen will be able to manufacture electric vehicles for less than it now costs to make gasoline or diesel ones by 2025. For many of the older generation, Volkswagen is the revered name or brand of cars that has made the ubiquitous “Volks” Beetle a road favorite and a cultural icon in the 1960’s and 1970’s. There is no better name for durability and reliability which has made the “German-made” brand such a much-cited standard for quality for Filipinos of my generation. And now, Volkswagen or the electric version of it is coming for my children and grandchildren and I am doubly optimistic that it would make an impact on them as it made on me when I rode my first Beetle in high school.
According to a Forbes magazine report, “Volkswagen’s management decided to commit to electrification, based on the belief that if it didn’t, it would ‘end up like Nokia’… In a bid to avoid fines resulting from the change in emissions standards planned for this year, Volkswagen said goodbye to hybrids in 2019, accelerated its electric vehicle manufacturing targets to one million units by the end of 2023 and 1.5 million by the end of 2025, built the largest electric vehicle factory in Europe, and carried out an ambitious investment program and reached supply agreements for batteries, which will culminate in a €35 billion investment in six battery factories and a global network of charging stations.”
Bottomline is that with Volkswagen entering the fray with its superior battery technology to Tesla, and its marketing and production muscle worldwide, the electric vehicle market is off to a rousing start with the venerable “Volks” leading the pack in this decade and the motorist/ consumer as well as Mother Earth will be benefited from the reduction of carbon-emission that has made the gasoline and diesel engine cars seemed destined for future extinction.