At a time when we are cautiously digging ourselves out from the rubble of the pandemic, it is becoming abundantly clear that mobility is an essential part of society and the economy. Businesses cannot warm-up – much less take-off – without the means to get people to work.
That’s why there was such a debate about the wisdom of reducing social distancing protocols. On one hand, if the government is to jump start its efforts at reviving the economy, they need more capacity in transporting people. On the other hand, compromising health protocols carries the risk of a resurgence of Covid infections that shuts down the economy again.
Many Filipinos have taken to alternative means of getting around or to work. Bicycles have seen the biggest surge in demand. Actually, it is heartening to see so many bicycles on the road. It is also encouraging that government is now fast-tracking bicycle lanes on key thoroughfares. This is an economical, healthy and environmentally-friendly mode of transport. This could be one of the unintended – but desirable – outcomes of the pandemic. It is a welcome part of the better normal.
Motorcycles, obviously, continue to be a growing and preferred means of transporting oneself. Affordable, less strenuous and faster than bicycles, it really appeals to daily commuters. Now that the need for a back-rider shield has been put to rest, it is a real go-to for many.
Bicycles and motorcycles are great personal mobility devices. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford them or are able to operate them. It does not meet the needs of the greater majority of public commuters. Ultimately, the mass transport system must be strengthened. For now, though, trains are constrained to run at about 30 percent of their capacity in order to be Covid-safe. Even pre-Covid, capacity was sorely lacking; this becomes even more evident now. The good news is that private investors and operators are ramping up connectivity and capacity. Though this may take a good while to see happen, it is a source of hope to know that these expansions are under way.
The carousel buses along EDSA are now a part of public commuting. Theoretically, the reduction in numbers of buses plying EDSA – and the cut in capacity due to social-distanced seating – is made up by the faster turnaround times resulting to more trips per bus. So far, some traffic back-ups on the dedicated rapid bus lanes have been observed, though. These are kinks that the Department of Transportation are expected to work out soon.
Then, there are the P2P buses as well as the TNVS options and modernized Public Utility Vehicles (PUV). They remain convenient modes of transport albeit more expensive. Add to all these, the required company shuttles that the government prescribed in varying degrees depending on the quarantine level. And, of course, the traditional jeep and tricycles that continue to ply tertiary or last mile routes.
Beyond the tale of transport modes, though, is the compelling story of how the public transport experience has and will continue to change.
The evolving experience will take the approach of co-existing with the Covid virus and not just mitigating its spread.
The enforcement of minimum health protocols becomes a must. Socially-distanced configuration of public vehicles is prescribed. Contactless payment or pre-payment has become the norm.
Toyota is even innovating its mobility solutions to adapt to the evolving realities of commuting. During MECQ, Toyota Motor Philippines launched a mobile app. SWATRide is an on-demand booking app for shuttles or public transport. This allows transport operators to maximize the deployment of their vehicles while providing commuters with the convenience of assured transportation as and when needed.
Since the initial pilot, Toyota has expanded testing to the Glorietta-Katipunan P2P route of Delta Neo Solutions.
We can expect more innovations and changes in the commuting experience. They should lead to a better and safer commute for the public, allowing the economy to reopen in a more measured but accelerated pace.