Metro commuters brave transport mess on first day of GCQ

Thousands of stranded passengers braved the dreaded Monday morning commute, as lack of adequate public transport marred the first day of Metro Manila’s shift to general community quarantine (GCQ).

While the government allowed more businesses allowed to open under GCQ, employees have experienced a hard time going to work as jeepneys and buses in Metro Manila have yet to resume. Only a handful of public transport options were allowed.

Trains went back to operation yet in a limited capacity. The Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) ran at only 10 to 12 percent of normal passenger volume, while the Philippine National Railways (PNR) was scapped at 35 percent. Trains are regularly cleaned and disinfected after every trip. However, strict social distancing measures meant less people were on the trains and longer lines formed at stations.

At EDSA, only selected buses can pick up and drop off passengers in four designated stations along the MRT line: North Avenue, Quezon Avenue, Ayala Station and Taft Avenue. But overhead walkways at the pick-up points pose a difficult challenge to persons with limited mobility like senior citizens and persons with disability (PWDs).

Almost 26,000 taxi and Transport Network Vehicle Services (TNVS) units returned to the roads during the first day of GCQ but only cashless transactions are allowed as mode of payment.

Those fit enough have taken the option of biking going to and from work, even in the absence of proper bicycle lanes in most parts of the Metro.

This scenario left thousands of commuters struggling to find a way to reach their destinations. Most left early to beat the morning rush, only to be stranded midway because transport options were still severely limited. Without enough public transportation available, thousands were left to fend for themselves.

Along Commonwealth Avenue, commuters waited and scrambled for limited seats in government vehicles dispatched to offer free rides. Some even resorted to walking several kilometers just to reach their destination.

Those in private vehicles and shuttle services were also met with heavy traffic. Roxas Boulevard was bumper-to-bumper, from Baclaran to Manila. Movement at both lanes of EDSA Cubao were also slow. At Elliptical Road in Quezon City, private vehicles, motorcycles and bikes have filled most lanes.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) earlier revealed a two-step plan to slowly revive public transportation but with safety guidelines in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). From June 1-21, Phase 1 allows trains, taxis and TNVS, shuttle services and point-to-point (P2P) buses, and bicycles to resume, yet in a limited capacity. Provincial buses were prohibited from entering the Metro. Public utility buses (PUBs), jeepneys and UV Express vans are still banned, as the DOTr eyes their return on June 22-30.

It remains to be seen whether the two-step plan will be adequate in meeting the needs of commuters who, after a ten-week lockdown, have been raring to go back to work – even if it means braving the same appalling transport conditions every day.

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