Guidelines and policy priorities to make public transport safe during COVID-19 | Daily News


 

Guidelines and policy priorities to make public transport safe during COVID-19

Pictures by Rukmal Gamage
Pictures by Rukmal Gamage

In order to safely reopen the economy, transport becomes a critical and vulnerable link connecting our homes where we have learnt to live in safety and our work and public places which are now being planned to handle people. The guidelines issued by the Health authorities draw attention to the measures that should be in place to ensure that risks in restoring transport services are minimal.

The Sri Lanka Society of Transport & Logistics (SLSTL) conducted an online Panel Discussion on “Public Transport Preparedness under COVID 19” on 9th May 2020 and identified the need for guidelines and policy priorities to make the public transport safe during COVID-19. The SLSTL proposes the following:

A. Guidelines for safe public transport operations

B. Immediate policy priorities for managing transport until COVID-19 is completely under control

A1. Crew & Staff Awareness: Every vehicle used for public transport should be subject to a safety/ hygienic audit and signed off by an officer designated to be responsible for its implementation throughout the day. Every such institution shall develop written guidelines for operators and staff. All staff should be given a copy of such guidelines in the language of their choice. These should be prominently displayed for public to be aware at stations and terminals. Vendors should not be allowed inside vehicles.

A2. Sanitization of vehicles: Every vehicle used for public transport should be sanitized in the morning before put to use and after each trip thereafter. Clear instructions should be issued regarding material to be used and training provided for those responsible for cleaning while ensuring the availability of material required. There should be a separate log to enter cleaning and sanitation records and to be kept available for inspection.

A3. Safety Equipment: Vehicle staff and others handling passengers should wear face masks as required. Conductors should wear gloves. Instruction should be provided for the proper wear, handling, disposal or washing as the case may be.

Public Transport regulators should be responsible to ensure that no vehicle provides public services without these.

A4. Mark off every other seat: Many countries have marked off every other seat on trains and buses in order to adhere to a minimum distance of 1 m as stipulated by health authorities. The number of passengers allowed should not exceed one person per square meter of the passenger cabin which approximately equals 50% of the number of authorized seats. Therefore, at a minimum, every other seat should be marked off with a temporary sticker or tape.

Only children accompanied by parents should be allowed to sit on marked seats provided an adjacent seat is not used by another passenger.

A5. Passengers boarding buses and trains: The entrance of railway stations, bus terminals and bus stops where large numbers of passengers may gather should be marked for the formation of queues with standing locations painted prominently on the ground or in an appropriate manner

A6. Information to passengers: Guidelines for safe hygienic practices and for the proper use of transport facilities by the public as issued by the Health Authorities should be displayed prominently inside stations, terminals and in buses and trains in all three languages.

A7. Keep doors closed: Only buses with closable doors should operate initially. The doors should be closed when the vehicle is travelling in order to manage entry to buses and unnecessary sudden breaks which forces the passengers to hold on to grab rails and seats.

A8. Managing capacity: There should be a person designated responsible for managing the number of passengers and their seating inside the vehicle. In the bus this can be the conductor. In trains stations there may need to be communication between stations and personnel to manage the numbers allowed in to each compartment. There should however be adequate buses/ trains not to make waiting for a passenger left behind prohibitively excessive.

A9. Ventilation & Other Matters: All windows should be kept open except during bad weather. AC vehicles are also advised to ensure circulation of air from outside or keep windows open even partially. Curtains, Carpets etc should be removed to ensure all surfaces can be cleaned easily.

A10. Move only when passengers are seated: The bus or train should move only after all passengers are seated. At a stop, passengers should be allowed to get up from their seats only after the vehicle comes to a complete stop. This will minimize passengers having to hold on to grab rails and seats. Vehicles should also be driven at a speed and in a manner that passengers do not have to hold on to the seat or other fittings.

A11. Sanitizers: It would be preferred if bus conductors, railway staff carry hand sanitizers in their pocket to spray passenger hands when they board a bus and before accepting money. The cost should be reimbursed after monitoring.

A12. Public complaints: Public should be encouraged and empowered to report any public transport facility or vehicle that does not comply with these requirements. IT platform and dedicated call centres should be set up for this.

B1. Reimbursement of Loss in Revenue for limiting passenger levels: Buses and trains will now have to operate at a higher level of safety for passengers. As such they should not be forced to overload in order to meet costs which will be severely reduced with limiting passengers. It is therefore recommended that Govt provides for at least the tax component on diesel to be returned to transport operators through a system of verification and standardized rates that can be easily set up using available IT platform and implemented by the regulators. This will be a necessary social cost of providing safe public transport.

B2. Enforcement of Standards & Discipline in Public Transport: The enforcement of standards and discipline has become necessary from a health perspective. Standards for passengers in a vehicle, formation of queues, speed of travel, behavior of bus crews have been continuing problems.

B3. Introduce Smart Transport through IT: Sri Lanka’s public transport lags in modernization and particularly in the use of Information Technology. This shall be encouraged in the short term to enable passenger information, passenger feedback and complaint systems, cashless fares, schedule and next bus information, load level information etc.

B4. Passenger Empowerment: The ability of passengers to demand standards in public transport has been diminishing with most people giving up on making even a complaint. It is necessary to move into self-regulatory environments, that have now become possible using mobile communication devises and Apps.

B5. Demand Spreading: As new travel patterns emerge, peaks in public transport that leads to chronic overloading should be managed through demand spreading especially in urban areas. A policy of staggered work starting times, compressed work week, flexible work hours should be introduced by Govt alongside the work from home option.


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