Pandemic smacks motorcab drivers in Dipolog

By Rey J. Garcia for MindaNews

Thaddeus Benson (right) and Hapon Galo, presidents of the tricycle groups 3WODA Downtown and D-GATMODA, respectively, wait for passengers at the terminal assigned to them along Ranillo Street in Dipolog City. Photo by REY J. GARCIA for MindaNews

DIPOLOG CITY (MindaNews / 17 Sep) – Around 4:30 in the early morning, Thaddeus Benson would line up his tricycle in the long queue in the vicinity of the Dipolog City Land Transport Terminal (DCLTT) in Barangay Miputak for motorcabs plying the downtown route, hoping to pick up some passengers disembarking from buses arriving from other municipalities and provinces.

This torture of a routine, when most people are still dreaming in their beds, would enable him to earn bigger income. If he started late, he would earn little, for passengers during this COVID-19 pandemic are so very few, what with all the travel prohibitions and restrictions when one crosses provincial and regional boundaries.

Thaddeus, 41, resides at Barangay Sta. Isabel here, where he is barangay councilor. He is married to a public-school teacher, Jesa, 38, with four children aged 3 to 14.

Aside from his income as motorcab driver, he is fortunate to have a modest honorarium as barangay kagawad, while his wife’s salary contributes to the family income, too.

But still, he feels the impact of the pandemic to the transport sector, particularly to the Tricycle Operators Drivers Associations (TODAs) in Dipolog City. The groups have a total membership of more than 2,000 drivers, at least those with updated registrations and franchises.

Thaddeus availed of a rent-to-own scheme for a brand new Piaggio tricycle, or what is more commonly known as “bao-bao,” where he pays a monthly installment of P8,400, or P280 daily, for three years.

He would let someone else drive the “bao-bao” six times a week for a daily rental of P180. Since the daily installment is P280, Thaddeus would add P100 from his own pocket. He would drive the tricycle himself on Mondays.

The 3 Wheelers Operators Drivers Association (3WODA Downtown), where Thaddeus is president, has almost 500 members. It is one of 11 TODAs operating in different routes around this city.

Thaddeus’s group is limited to ply only the downtown proper route (hence the word “downtown” added to their group’s name), but there are times when they have to cross other routes if a passenger would charter the tricycle (known locally as “pakyaw”).

He disclosed that before the COVID-19 pandemic, every motorcab can have an average of six passengers per trip. And since there are many passengers at that time, they can ply their route from their assigned motorcab parking area at least 10 times in a day. At an approved fare rate of P8 per passenger, they would earn a gross of P700 to P1,000 daily, minus the fuel and lubricant expenses of at most P300. Every motorcab driver could take home around P400 to P700, or even bigger if they continue driving until night time.

Thaddeus said that since the start of the pandemic last year, everything has changed. Passengers are scarce, or even none at all, especially on those two-month long “hard lockdowns” implemented from April to May last year where most, if not all, of the establishments and government offices in the city were closed.

On April 1, 2020, the city council passed Ordinance No. 20-297, known as the “COVID-19 Ordinance of Dipolog City,” that highlighted the minimum health protocols to be implemented, such as wearing of face mask and face shield for all passengers and drivers, following the physical distancing protocol. For motorcabs, only two passengers are allowed. Included in the said ordinance are penalties for violations that reach up to P5,000.

At present, while the whole province of Zamboanga del Norte is under the General Community Quarantine (GCQ), the motorcab drivers have more time to chat in their assigned parking area while each is waiting for his two passengers, the most passengers they can take as per the approved city ordinance.

Due to the scarcity of passengers, a motorcab driver can only have an average daily earning ranging from P300 to P500 based on the approved fare rate of P10 per passenger but only two passengers allowed per trip. They can only have four trips in a day – two in the morning and two in the afternoon.

In addition to their dilemma, prices of gasoline, lubricants, parts and accessories for motorcabs have noticeably risen.

The fare rate of P10 per passenger is included in City Ordinance No. 20-298 passed on June 8, 2020. Before the ordinance was passed, many passengers complained that some motorcab drivers were collecting P30 per passenger, but the drivers of 3WODA Downtown explained that they do it to sustain their family’s needs. The pointed out that they could only take in two passengers per trip at P10 each.

The 3WODA Downtown drivers and those in other groups under TODA noted that some of their colleagues have shifted to other livelihood, such as construction, to feed their family since they no longer have enough income as motorcab drivers.

Last July the city government extended cash and in-kind assistance to motorcab drivers under TODA but Thaddeus confirmed that some of their group members, including himself, were not included in the list of those accorded assistance.

Of the 2,009 franchisees in the city, only 700 have received assistance. According to Henry Tomarong, one of the 3WODA Downtown members who were given assistance, he received P3,000 cash and a box containing rice and assorted groceries.

The TODA drivers said a representative from city hall told them that those who did not receive assistance will get their share later. But up to this time, they heard no advisory yet from the city government.

Hapon Galo, 56, president of Dipolog-Galas Transport Motorcab Operators Drivers Association (D-GATMODA) which occupies the parking space next to 3WODA Downtown, said not even half of their more than 40 members received the assistance for the motorcab drivers. He said they needed the assistance now, more so with the much lower income because of the health protocols.

The presidents from the two TODA groups (Hapon and Thaddeus) revealed that not more than 30 percent of their members have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. They said most of the unvaccinated told them they fear the vaccine’s side effects.

Besides, the city has limited supply of vaccines even as it now caters to the A4 category, where the motorcab drivers belong. The Provincial IATF for COVID-19, through its co-chair, Dr. Esmeralda Nadela, confirmed in its updates via social media that as of this moment, they are waiting for the vaccines from the DOH regional office. The latter has the say in the distribution of the vaccines to the cities and municipalities of the province.

Thaddeus clarified that he is not demanding any kind of assistance for himself, but for the other members of TODA, whose sole means of livelihood is the tricycle.

Ang mga motorcab drivers nagkinahanglan og ayuda karong panahona samtang wala pa sila hingpit nawad-i sa paglaum. Basin maulahi na ang tanan kon wala nay magbiyahe nga motorcab dinhi. Hinumduman unta ang panultihon nga, ‘Unsaon pa man ang sagbot kon patay na ang kabayo,’” he said. (The motorcab drivers need assistance now, before they would all lose hope. It might be too late if no more motorcabs will ply the routes around the city. Just remember the saying, ‘What’s the use of the grass if the horse is already dead.)

He also asked for any government agencies or non-government organizations who are willing to help the TODA groups through livelihood assistance or trainings, so they can have other means of livelihood for them to survive this pandemic. (Rey J. Garcia for MindaNews)