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Traditional jeepneys safer for passengers, IBON says; Palace not convinced

Independent think tank IBON Foundation, citing foreign studies, said traditional open-air jeepneys are safer for commuters compared with air-conditioned modern public utility vehicles (PUVs) amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but its qualification to come up with such conclusion is being questioned by Malacañang.

"Hindi ko po alam ang qualification ng IBON para magbigay ng ganyan conclusion," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said at a televised briefing Monday.

IBON is urging the government to lift the ban on traditional jeepneys. In making the suggestion, it cited the numerous findings of researchers around the world which include:

  • findings of medical researchers and physicists from the University of Amsterdam who have found that mall cough droplets potentially containing virus particles can stay in the air of enclosed spaces especially when poorly ventilated.
  • findings of Chinese Academy of Sciences which stated that airborne transmission is a significant route of infection in indoor environments
  • the 1,600-strong International Association of Public Transport issuing a warning that public transport systems are “high risk environments” due to the confined space and limited ventilation
  • the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control advising proper ventilation in [public transport] at all times and the use of windows [to] increase replacement with fresh air
  • the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing guidelines on mass transit administrators which include “[increasing] circulation of outdoor air as much as possible” and
  • Thailand’s transport ministry instructing public transport operators to open windows for good air ventilation.

In addition according to IBON, passengers in modern PUVs would still have to sit facing each other based on photos of modern PUVs released by the Department of Transportation.

The government, however, is adamant that passengers are hardly safe inside traditional jeepneys due to the vehicle's internal design.

"Kasi pag harapan talaga ang upuan, mas mataas ang tsansa na makahawa," Roque said.

But it's not yet the end of the road for old jeepneys as Roque said the ban may be lifted if buses and modern PUVs prove insufficient to accommodate the volume of passengers

"Ikokonsidera po sila (jeepneys) kung kulang, Roque said.

Traditional jeepneys remained banned to operate under general community quarantine on the argument that social distancing cannot be observed in their limited space where passengers sit facing each other.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has been pushing for the modernization of jeepneys, a move opposed by various transport groups as it would supposedly affect the livelihood of many drivers and operators.

Roque insisted that the use of modern PUVs amid the pandemic is what is best for the commuters.

"Ang nangyari naman po talaga eh pinagbawal natin ang mass transport at unti-unti po natin itong ibabalik. Ang desisyon po ay makakabuti po na ipatupad ang modernization ng PUVs ngayon,” Roque said.

"Iyong convenience po ng mananakay ang primary consideration," he added. --KBK, GMA News