With the COVID-19 pandemic dealing a serious blow across all segments of the tourism sector, tourist transport drivers and operators here in Bohol are hoping to bounce back from their financial woes.
As most tourist transport industry players are on the verge of bankruptcy due to the absence of bookings since travel restrictions were imposed by the government in mid-March this year, transport operators and drivers are asking government intervention for them to be granted provisional or special permits to ply routes that are currently being served by passenger utility vehicles (PUVs).
Tourist transport groups have aired their plea to First District Rep. Edgar Chatto who vowed to take the matter up with the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and the Department of Tourism (DOT).
Interviewed over dyRD’s Inyong Alagad on Monday, Rep. Chatto advised tour drivers and operators to formally write a letter of intent addressed to the LTFRB, coursed through his office, expressing their desire to be granted provisional or “special” permits to ply PUV/PUJ routes here in the province.
The congressman assured operators and drivers that he will personally convey their request to the LTFRB once he gathers the letters of intent.
Hundreds of tourist transport drivers and workers here are among those greatly affected by the shutdown of international travels.
Apart from the fact that local tours have been brought to almost a total standstill in the past five months, most transport operators are faced with the inability to repay banks from which they obtained vehicle loans for their existing tourist transport units.
Several operators have already sought the assistance of Gov. Arthur Yap to help them convince banks, through the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, to extend the grace period of their vehicle amortizations and loan repayments to a period of one year.
Rep. Chatto however informed the tourist transport sector that under the “Bayanihan To Heal As One Act 2,” the grace period for loan repayments has been extended to only 60 days. This 60-day loan moratorium under the “Bayanihan 2” is already an extension to the 30-day grace period that was granted under the first “Bayanihan” law.
The first district solon said he wants to meet with the tourist transport groups in the province to hear their sentiments.
Back in May this year, a group of tourist transport operators have written letters of intent to the LTFRB regarding their wish to operate some of their existing units that are accredited by the DOT so that the be allowed to serve the routes of passenger jeepneys and vehicles.
However, their request has not yet been acted upon by the LTFRB up to now.
One transport operator, who owns six vans and two coasters told the Chronicle that while the provincial government has already allowed some tourism establishments to re-open, such as resorts, hotels and restaurants, bookings for tours and transport is still practically close to zero as many potential local tourists still have concerns over the incidence of local-transmissions of COVID-19.
The operator said it is the desire of their group to revitalize their transport services by temporarily plying passenger routs to minimize the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis to their businesses and their employees, most of whom have been out of work since they suspended business operations from the time the government imposed quarantine measures and travel restrictions.
Under MGCQ, tourist transport allowed
Since Bohol has been placed under a modified general community quarantine, tourist land transport are allowed to operate together with the re-opening of tourist destinations, establishments such as resorts, hotels and restaurants, albeit at 50% capacity.
In view of which , the Department of Tourism (DOT) released on June 10, the health and safety guidelines for tourist land transport services under MGCQ, or the “new normal”.
In areas under MGCQ, tourist destinations such as water parks, resorts and beaches as well as travel agencies, tour operators, reservation service and related activities have been allowed to operate since June 1, but only at 50 percent capacity.
Here are the guidelines for transport operators, based on the DOT’s Memorandum Circular No. 2020 – 003:
– Ensure the monitoring of body temperature of all employees every time they report to work. Unwell employees or those with mild flu-like symptoms shall be directed to see a doctor and to stay at home.
– Provide all employees with personal protective equipment while they are on duty, with adequate training on the proper use of PPE.
– Ensure that drivers are well provided with face mask (surgical or cloth), hand sanitizer or at least 70 percent alcohol, paper towels or tissue paper, appropriate disinfectants, disposable cloths and cleaning agents, and gloves that are readily available in the vehicle for use of the driver when necessary.
– Ensure that employees are regularly updated on health concerns and other related information by installing a safety bulletin board and displaying safety and health-related information in the working premises.
– Ensure cleanliness within office premises, including the garage and areas.
– Provide an annual health check-up for drivers and staff. It is encouraged to provide health benefit options (insurance or plan) for all employees.
• Passengers not wearing masks shall not be allowed to board the vehicle. A passenger exhibiting flu-like symptoms shall be immediately transported to a healthcare facility or hospital for further evaluation.
• Vehicles must comply with the following social distancing and passenger limit guidelines set by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to avoid possible contact:
– No passenger seated beside the driver
– Two passengers at the back row with one seat apart
– No more than three passengers, including the driver
– Only two passengers per row are allowed, except for the driver’s row where only one passenger may occupy the passenger’s seat
– A waterproof transparent barrier between the driver and the passengers must be installed
(c) Buses and coasters
– Only 50 percent of the total capacity is allowed
– A waterproof transparent barrier between the driver and the passengers must be installed
– Passengers must be seated one seat apart
– No standing passengers shall be allowed
The above measures may be revised subject to updated issuances by the DOTr and/or LTFRB, the DOT stated.
• Passenger information such as name, address and contact details shall be collected for contact tracing, subject to the provisions of Republic Act No. 10173 or the Data Privacy Act.
• To ensure that the passenger limit and physical measures are complied with, vehicles must have markings that will guide passengers on which seats are available for use. Non-permeable or acetate seat barriers may also be installed to limit contact between passengers.
• All vehicles must contain notices with appropriate information on the prevailing disease, as well as the policies enforced to reduce the risk and spread of the disease. Information materials on hand, disinfecting and respiratory etiquette, proper use of face mask, emergency contact numbers, among others, must be provided to passengers.
• Every vehicle must be equipped with a thermometer gun, basic first-aid kit, and sanitation kits for free use of passengers, which shall include the following:
– 70 percent solution alcohol or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
– tissue paper and/or disposable wet wipes
• Deep cleaning and proper disinfection and sanitation of vehicles must be done before and after every use. Additional emphasis shall be placed on frequently touched surfaces such as seats, armrests, door handles, light and air controls, and the like.
• The vehicle should be well ventilated and air conditioning shall be on non-recirculated mode to maximize air changes that reduce potentially infectious particles in the vehicle.
• Waste materials on board shall be kept in a clean and hygienic condition. A separate trash bag for all gloves, face masks, PPE, wet wipes, and other sanitation disposables used by the passengers shall be available inside the vehicle. The disposal of wastes shall be in accordance with any special instructions relating to the material concerned. Used trash bags shall be disposed of immediately upon arrival at the destination.
• An emergency directory must be available in every vehicle with the emergency hotlines of the following:
– Clinics and hospitals located in the city/municipality within the route
– Police and fire stations located in the city/municipality within the route
– Other emergency responders whether public or private located in the city/municipality within the route
• Payment Options. Cashless and such other options that promote less physical contact are highly encouraged.
• Personal hygiene, good grooming and other conduct. Drivers must observe the following guidelines:
– Wear clean clothes/uniform and closed shoes while on duty
– Wear appropriate PPE (face masks and gloves) properly at all times while on duty
– Avoid physical contact with the passengers and observe physical distancing at all times
– Frequently wash hands. When soap and running water are unavailable, as alternative, 70 percent solution alcohol or alcohol-based hand sanitizer may be used
– Practice good respiratory etiquette, cover nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
– Frequently clean and disinfect the vehicle. If applicable, open the windows to air out the vehicle after every trip
– Accomplish an itinerary or trip ticket for every trip for proper documentation and reference
“It is the duty of the transport operator/owner to ensure that drivers comply with the above standards,” the DOT said.
“Any violation of these guidelines may subject the tourism enterprise to the appropriate fines and penalties, including revocation of its DOT accreditation, in accordance with relevant laws, rules, and regulations,” it added. (Reports from Rey Tutas)