Vice President Leni Robredo has called on the government to allow jeepneys back in the streets of Metro Manila amid the COVID-19 pandemic, provided these comply with minimum health standards.
According to Robredo, this will address lack of mass transport and aid the drivers who have been deprived of income due to COVID-19 threat.
Robredo's request was contained in her letter to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque along with other suggestions on how the government can improve its COVID-19 response.
“The prohibition of jeepneys took a huge toll on commuters because of the lack of public transportation. Likewise, it adversely affected jeepney drivers and operators who did not have income for more than three months. [Thus] we recommend allowing the operations of jeepneys while ensuring strict enforcement of the principles of social distancing and of minimum health standards,” Robredo said.
“There have been many suggestions and recommendations by citizens on how to enforce these.”
Robredo cited the efforts to create dividers for seats to limit contact among passengers; retrofitting the jeepneys so that the seats are positioned in such a way that passengers will be seated back to back instead of facing each other; and/or opening the sides of the jeepneys to ensure free flow of air, among others.
“Innovative solutions such as these should have been studied as early as the start of the community quarantine in March so that they would have been ready for implementation as soon as restrictions were eased,” she pointed out.
Likewise, Robredo also said that pursuing the Public Utility Vehicle modernization policy should mean providing more affordable loan terms for operators.
Jeepneys have been prohibited from plying the roads since March 16, with the government arguing that social distancing cannot be enforced inside a jeepney’s cramped space.
As a result, a number of jeepney drivers have already been spotted begging for aid on streets, while some families of jeepney drivers were also forced to sleep on the jeepney due to lack of money to pay for house rent.
Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire earlier said that individuals will not be at risk of getting COVID-19 as long as they wear masks and maintain distance from other persons when riding a vehicle regardless if it is air-conditioned or an open-air vehicle.
Based on government records, there are around 170,000 public utility jeepneys in the country. —KBK, GMA News