Social distancing to be reduced in public transportation starting Monday

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) released a memorandum that will reduce social distancing measures on public transport from one meter to 0.75 meters. This will be implemented beginning on Monday, September 14.

In a virtual presser held on Saturday, DOTr Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon Jr said that the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases, which heads the government’s COVID-19 response, has agreed to a recommendation by the Economic Development Council (EDC) to practice “optimization of social distancing” on all modes of public transportation.

Tuazon explained further that even if the IATF agreed to reduce the social distancing measure on public transportation to 0.5 meters, DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade wants to do it in a “prudent and gradual way.” Therefore, it will be reduced to 0.75 meters first by Monday.

With this new implementation, the effect on the MRT-3, which is one of the most important modes of public transportation in Metro Manila, will have an increase in passenger capacity from 51 to 68. Since it operates three coaches, each MRT-3 train will increase its capacity from 153 passengers to 204.

Meanwhile, other train lines will have the following capacity increase—LRT1 capacity will be boosted from 155 passengers to 204, LRT2 will have an increase from 160 passengers to 212, and the PNR from 166 passengers to 184.

Still, talking and taking phone calls are still prohibited inside the trains. Passengers who will be standing will be required to face the same direction. These will be done to prevent inhaling particles exhaled by fellow passengers. DOTr said that there will be at least one marshal on each train “as much as possible.”

In buses, capacity will be increased with an additional 6 to 8 passengers depending on the size of the vehicle. The current 24/25-capacity buses will be allowed to take in up to 36 passengers.

In jeepneys, an additional 1 to 3 passengers will be allowed.

Similar to the rule on trains, talking and taking phone calls are prohibited in both buses and jeepneys. Operators and drivers are encouraged to turn off air-conditioning so that air flows into and out of the vehicle, instead of just circulating inside it.

It is still mandatory for all commuters to wear face masks and face shields.

The social distancing measure in public transport is geared to be reduced further by 0.5 meters by September 28, and then down to 0.3 meters by October 12.

DOTr Undersecretary Timothy John Batan said the agency made a survey of other countries’ health safety protocols on public transport, and found that many have already relaxed physical distancing while maintaining other protocols.

Quoting a study by the International Union of Railways, Batan said, “Using other measures in combination with social distancing, such as wearing a mask, will modify the threshold of social distancing, and thus enable to increase the occupancy rate of the trains.”

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