LRT-1 supports DOTr push to increase capacity safely

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Light Rail Manila Corporation (LRMC), the private operator and maintenance provider of LRT-1, has assured the public of strict health and safety protocols as it begins to accommodate more passengers.

Following the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID)’s approval of a proposal to ease social distancing guidelines in public transport, LRMC will adjust passenger distance inside trains from 1 meter to 0.75 meters. As a result, each trainset will now be able to increase passenger capacity from 155 to 204 passengers or a 30% increase.

Under the IATF-approved guidelines, there will also be a gradual reduction of physical distancing to be implemented in phases or after every two (2) weeks. For LRT-1, the adjusted capacity based on reduced physical distancing inside trains will be 255 passengers (0.5-meter) starting 28 September 2020 and 300 passengers (0.3-meter) on 12 October 2020. Compared to the LRT-1’s pre-pandemic ridership level of average 1200 passengers/train set, these figures are still about 20-25% only of previous ridership capacity.

Since it resumed operations last June 1, LRMC has been implementing above-minimum health and safety measures to ensure passenger and employee wellness such as complying with the government’s directive of “No Face Mask, No Face Shield, No Entry” policy. Other measures also include diligent temperature checks on all passengers and employees before entering the station platform; installation of disinfection mats, non-permeable plastic barriers on train seats, and thermal scanners in six major LRT-1 stations; regular chemical disinfection complemented by UVc disinfection of all trains and stations; contactless transactions; and strict crowd control.

LRMC was the first to implement the “no-talking and no answering phone calls” policy inside the trains. It has also pioneered the use of digital and mobile technology for information dissemination, convenient trip planning, and contact tracing of COVID positive passengers. In August 2020, LRMC introduced a new feature on its ikotMNL mobile app which allows LRT-1 passengers to activate a contact tracing feature via Bluetooth LE technology.

“Reducing the physical distance doesn’t mean we will be complacent or we will take things for granted. Rail actually offers the fastest journey, so it is still safer since there is less time for possible exposure. Higher transport supply is also a smart way to ensure social distancing because it can help in smoothening out peak or rush hours. Moreover, we continue to provide best in class safety protocols to keep transportation safe. Our protocols are based on global best practices benchmarked from ASEAN and Japan. These will help our country open up the economy safely. Tokyo and Osaka passenger volumes, for instance, have already recovered to 70-80% of pre-COVID levels. Only face masks are mandated in Japan,” said LRMC President and CEO Juan F. Alfonso.

The role of public transport in supporting economic rebound

The new IATF guidelines seek to increase ridership and support economic rebound as more businesses reopen and more workers require mobility under the general community quarantine.

A recent study by the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), showed that improved ridership recovery post-lockdown has allowed major cities such as Moscow, Milan, Paris, London, and even hard-hit New York to bounce back given strict implementations of health and safety protocols still in place. In Asia, the Philippines is the only country left with strict passenger limit in trains as other countries have already eased social distancing guidelines as early as March 2020.

LRMC for its part supports the decision of government in easing restrictions on public transport as it acknowledges the need to kickstart the economy, while also keeping the public safe and healthy.

“The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how public transport is indeed an essential service and serves as the backbone of any nation. We support the government’s plan to reopen the economy safely and gradually. We believe in taking a wholistic approach in carrying out our next steps towards recovery,” said Mr. Alfonso.

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