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Bacolod City, Philippines Tuesday, August 25, 2020
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Making public transport safe

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Ventilation and brief trips are part of five key factors identified in a recent study published by the Collaborative Group or Modeling COVID and Mobility in Colombia, supporting a growing consensus that taking public transport is by itself not a major driver in outbreaks.

Apart from user behavior, i.e., mask-wearing and not talking on public transportation, distancing and regular disinfection, ventilation and shorter trips play key roles in reducing transmission among commuters, the research that looked into the COVID-19 mass transit policies adopted in Japan, France, Austria, China, Germany and Singapore said.

The study aims for “a safe return to higher occupancies in public transportation operations while preventing the transmission of the new coronavirus.”

According to the study, trips lasting less than 15 minutes, for example, can lessen the chances of contracting COVID-19. Vehicle ventilation – both natural (windows) or air-conditioned systems – must also allow for air renewal at least once every three minutes to mitigate the spread of airborne droplets that carry the virus, it added.

It also noted that four minutes of talking inside vehicles was equivalent to 30 seconds of sneezing.

The researchers – transport experts, epidemiologists and data scientists from different universities around the world – also pointed out that several cities and countries have adopted a specific numerical value for allowed occupancy in public transport. The study pointed out it is difficult to provide a numerical estimate useful for all country’s systems and different types of vehicles, since there are many factors that intervene. In the case of the Philippines where the head of government task forces for COVID-19 are ex-military men with no previous experience in pandemics, that capacity was decided on 50 percent for buses, taxis and ride-hailing services and 15 percent for trains.

The study recommended “not to close public transportation services as a preventive measure against contagion,” and instead to take “special care with periodic testing and monitoring of symptoms especially for system drivers, who due to their higher risk of contagion, mobility and occupation, may suffer more infections compared to the user population and in general.” It also called for staggering schedules (instead of curfews), teleworking and promoting active transport, even when the health crisis is overcome.

One of the most important factors in restarting stalled economies is making public transportation available yet safe instead of arbitrarily shutting it down or imposing unreasonable limits. Public transport in the Philippines, especially in the less congested provinces, can and should be safe to use if the proper precautions and measures are taken. Instead of obsessing over face shields and plastic barriers, the people responsible for making this service available might want to review the work of other countries that have successfully reopened their economies.*


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