Malacañang is not agreeable to use jeepneys to solve the transport shortage during a pandemic, but said their drivers could be hired as COVID-19 tracers.
Jeepneys and UV Express vehicles remain prohibited under a general community quarantine (GCQ) even as more businesses have been allowed to resume operations.
“It would be difficult to practice physical distancing inside jeepneys,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque in an interview over ANC’s Headstart.
Roque said the government is looking to hire around 120,000 contact tracers nationwide to augment the existing over 30,000 contact tracers.
The Palace spokesman said the traditional PUJ has front-facing seats, saying that deploying this type of vehicle is “not on the immediate horizon.”
“It’s almost a physical impossibility to have social distancing when passengers face each other in a jeepney,” Roque said.
However, the government is considering the deployment of modern PUJs where the seating arrangement is similar to modern buses.
“These kinds of modern jeepneys might be deployed sooner than later. The traditional face-to-face jeepney, out of the question for now,” he said.
But according to the Department of Transportation (DOTr), jeepenys will be allowed to resume operations on June 22.
Thousands of jeepney drivers are protesting the jeepney ban, saying they have been deprived of their source of livelihood for over two months due to lockdown measures.
Senator Grace Poe urged the government to hire traditional passenger jeeps compliant to safety protocols to augment the fleet of public utility vehicles that will shuttle commuting workers.
To ensure social distancing and prevent the transmission of COVID-19, Poe said the jeepneys should bear markers and partitions, and should observe other health and safety measures.
Now that physical distancing is a must, Poe said government should all the more provide transportation options given the limited capacities of PUVs that left thousands of commuters stranded and unable to go to work.
During deliberations on the Bayanihan to Recover as One bill, Poe suggested that an amount be set aside for hiring of the additional shuttles and that clear guidelines should be in place for the return of jeepneys.
Poe noted that since the start of the general community quarantine, only 90 buses operate along EDSA as against the 3,500 buses running pre-quarantine. With only 25 passengers per trip per unit, only about 20,000 passengers can be accommodated instead of the 250,000 before the lockdown.
Roque, meanwhile, defended Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade from criticism that they lack resolve in addressing the lack of transport systems for commuters.
He said the Department of Transportation (DOTr) acted “expeditiously” to provide rides for passengers by deploying additional buses in commercial lanes and shuttle services for front line health care workers.
The number of inbound and outbound domestic passengers to be accommodated at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) will not be limited, unlike arriving international passengers, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Ed Monreal said Monday.
The limit of 400 passengers a day for arriving international flights, however, is still being implemented, Monreal said.
As of Monday night, no airline was given a slot at NAIA to mount a commercial domestic flight for June 3, he added.
On May 30, the Civil Aeronautics Board announced that airlines are required to get a clearance first from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID), which would approve the routes for domestic air services the airlines proposed for the resumption of domestic operations.
Local carriers Cebu Pacific and AirAsia Philippines announced over the weekend the resumption of their domestic flight operations on June 2 and 3. These, however, were canceled.
Cebu Pacific on Tuesday night announced the mounting of several "special repatriation flights" on June 3. These include flights between Manila and the cities of General Santos, Naga, and Cagayan de Oro.
AirAsia Philippines on Tuesday night said it would resume flights in its key domestic routes on June 5.
Philippine Airlines (PAL) will offer domestic services beginning June 5 and said it had canceled flights originally set for June 3-7 "due to fine-tuning of local government entry restrictions and requirements.”
As local carriers plan to gradually resume domestic services, Monreal said NAIA Terminal 3 would be used for domestic flights and PAL would continue using NAIA Terminal 2.
Also on Wednesday, the Philippine National Police (PNP) deployed buses and troop carrier trucks to accommodate people traveling to and from various destinations in Metro Manila.
PNP Chief, Gen. Archie Gamboa ordered the Directorate for Police Community Relations (DPCR) and the Police Community Affairs and Development Group (PCADG) to increase the number of vehicles to help transport more commuters.
DPCR head, Maj. Gen. Dionardo Carlos, said the PNP began rolling the vehicles at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday.
“It is our desire to ferry more people but we give premium to the health and safety of the public availing of these services. We hope for the understanding of everyone,” Carlos said in a statement.
He said 12 buses and troop carrier trucks of the PNP Special Action Force were also deployed.
Carlos said the effort is being replicated by the regional police offices, in coordination with local government units and other government agencies.
He said police personnel were instructed to implement physical distancing, reducing the load capacity of the vehicles to 50 percent.
PNP spokesperson, Brig Gen. Bernard Banac, however, admitted that the police force still monitored stranded commuters due to the limited number of public transport vehicles.
"The situation on Tuesday (was) much better than Monday. There (was) an improvement when it comes to traffic build-up and the congestion we faced (on Monday)," Banac said. With PNA