MANILA, Philippines—One year should have been sufficient to prepare public transport rules in another chapter of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) but what greeted commuters on the first day of ECQ 2021 was confusion, according to a transport economist on Monday (March 29).

In an interview with Inquirer, Jedd Ugay, chief mobility officer of advocacy group AltMobility, said a disconnect among the Department of Transportation (DOTr), transport operators and commuters caused confusion on the first day of ECQ 2021 in the National Capital Region (NCR) and the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan and Rizal.

“Operators and commuters who have no access to social media and news may have thought that public transportation would be banned in ECQ, which resulted in the fewer number of public utility vehicles (PUVs) plying the roads,” Ugay said.

On Monday (March 29), the first day of ECQ in the “NCR Plus bubble”, commuters on their way to work found fewer rides and blamed the DOTr for announcing public transport guidelines too late.

The government announced that NCR Plus would be on a week-long ECQ, the most stringent lockdown level, on Saturday (March 27) and the DOTr released the guidelines in the afternoon of Sunday (March 28).

ECQ in 2020 in Metro Manila included a ban on public transportation to discourage people, except essential workers, from leaving their homes.

“I don’t agree with what [the government] said that what they did was enough considering the smaller number of commuters,” Lamiel said.

“They should look at the ground level and see for themselves what it’s like to commute in a pandemic,” Lamiel told the Inquirer in an online exchange.

When asked about the expected demand in public transportation during ECQ 2021, the DOTr said it was anticipating fewer commuters because it was Holy Week, when workers traditionally head to their home provinces.

Ugay, however, said ECQ protocol in 2020 required employers to implement alternative arrangements, like work-from-home and the use of skeletal workforce in offices, to prevent a high volume of commuters on the road.

In ECQ 2021, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases did not require employers to implement the same protocol, leading to a high demand for public transport and few PUVs.

“The DOTr should have properly prepared and studied the expected trip demands,” said Ugay.

“How many necessary trips are there in a day and how can we ensure adequate supply? They should show assumptions for the calculation and provide an action plan for provision of sufficient supply,” Ugay said.

“They should not say that there will be fewer commuters because it’s Holy Week. What do they mean when they say ‘fewer?’ That number could range between 100,000 and 1 million,” he added.

According to him, checkpoints should also not have been set up inside NCR Plus, as this caused unnecessary delays in PUV trips, aggravating the suffering of commuters who were already late for work.

This was especially true for Lamiel, who had to wait nearly an hour for the bus he would take to get past a checkpoint going to the San Mateo-Batasan Bridge.

“I feel a lot of the commuters’ pain stems from the fact that the promised ‘operational public vehicles’ are virtually nonexistent at that time,” he said.

Ugay said the government should have been more prepared for ECQ 2021 because it had already been there and knew ahead that a lockdown was in the works because of the record surge in COVID-19 cases.

“We already had one year to prepare, but we still lack in terms of execution and planning. Our mistakes and shortcomings a year ago still persist to this day,” Ugay said.