COVID-19 has thrown up a range of unique challenges for the transport industry. How do operators keep their passengers and operators safe whilst continuing to operate services? Transport for NSW and operators have been working closely with NSW Health to address the challenge of COVID-19 and support the containment efforts.
Across all modes, Transport for NSW has put in place strategies to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Transport for NSW and bus operators have taken steps to reduce driver passenger interactions on buses. This includes blocking off the front seats closest to the driver, closing Opal readers in front of the driver and banning people from standing in front of the wheelchair area. Operators that still accept cash payments have temporarily stopped them, if they also have Opal enabled.
These measures still do leave the driver at risk, however it does reduce the level driver-passenger interactions and therefore the overall level of risk. Due to poor design of Australian buses, we can’t move to block the front door and force passengers on via the rear door like in Europe, as this would fall foul of Australian Disability Accessibility requirements. Some operators in regional areas don’t have Opal, so they still have to handle cash.
COVID-19 hopefully will be the catalyst to make improvements to our bus services. All entrances to buses should be fully accessible and all buses in NSW should accept contactless payment, not just buses in Sydney. These are practises that have been standard in Europe for more than a decade.
On light rail operations, doors are now auto opening at all stops. This is instead of passengers having to push a button to open vehicle doors. This stops people unnecessarily touching various surfaces. Across all modes, there is also now additional cleaning. This means that vehicles, stations, stops and wharfs are being cleaned more often and more thoroughly.
COVID-19 has also had the effect of significantly reducing passenger numbers. Usually full buses and trains have been operating empty or with no passengers. Peak hour express services have been particularly effected with people working from home.
There is some suggestion that there may need to be a reduction in services. State Transit has begun reducing the number of services operated by articulated buses. A move to Saturday timetables during the week is also understood to be on the cards. It is simply unsustainable to continue to operate near empty buses for week or potential months.
Here in NSW, transport is largely funded by the state government. There isn’t a high level of reliance on fares to operate services. This is in contrast to places like Queensland or the United States, where transport is often funded at council or county level and are much more reliant on fare collection for continued operations. These areas will likely have a bigger impact on transport from COVID-19.
There is now some suggestion that long distance coach and train services should be suspended. This is because these services see passengers and drivers in enclosed spaces for longer periods of time. This puts these people at higher risk for contracting COVID-19. On the other hand, these services are often vital links for small regional communities. They would likely struggle if their lifelines were cut.
A reduction in aviation has also been seen across new as a result of COVID-19. Most international flights, including all Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Australia international flights have now been suspended. Domestically, up to 60% of flights have also been suspended.
This has led to people stranded overseas, however once again it is regional communities in NSW that are most at risk. REX and QantasLink services to regional NSW are lifelines for many communities, providing freight and trade links. Both of these airlines are reducing flights due to COVID-19, impacting on these communities.
Pandemics like COVID-19 have a significant impact on all aspects of life. Transport, as a shared community experience where people are in close quarters is one area that is particularly impacted. Here at Transport NSW Blog, we intend to keep you up to date with the latest changes due to COVID-19. Stay safe everyone!