When Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the country that people could return to work on May 13, he said they should avoid using public transportation unless it is absolutely necessary. This is a problem: although two thirds of England travel by car and 15% more travel by motorbike, bicycle and on foot, cities are a very different story.
There were 8.3 billion passenger journeys on public transport across the UK in 2018, according to the Department of Transport, which represents more than 22 million per day. More than half of Londoners commute by public transport, and although cars are more popular in other British cities, around a quarter of shuttles to Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool are by public transport. It’s a lot of people who need to find new ways to get to work. Public transportation is designed to carry masses of people, and industry insiders say it will not be possible to get public transportation to maintain social distance. It just doesn’t match.
Transport for London (TfL) says it can only handle up to 15% of normal passengers and maintain social distance. According to the calculations of The Guardian, maintaining a social distance of two meters on the Northern Line in London would limit trains to 124 passengers. Its official capacity is 910, but during peak hours, it reaches a third above its capacity, which results in a limited number of 8.5 people per square meter. And that’s if the metro runs its normal train schedule. For now, that is not the case, although the plan is to return to 85% this week, from around 60% in recent weeks.
On the first day, the lockout was relaxed, the number of passengers increased from 5% to 7% in the metro, but reports suggest that even at these low levels it was impossible to stay within two meters of one another. other on tube carts at peak times.
Passengers in other cities dropped similarly, with 95% fewer passengers on Manchester’s MetroLink trams, 88% on buses outside London and 95% on train trips. But like in London, capacity has also been reduced, with buses providing emergency service only to key workers, for example.
In short, there are too many people and not enough space. As Europe returned to work before England, metro networks tested various measures to resolve this problem. Masks are now compulsory in public transport in 50 countries, including Germany and France. Paris has social distancing markers at stations and trains, asking passengers to leave an empty seat for more space – raising concerns about the capacity and revenues of rail operators. Denmark is adding additional cars to trains to create space for social distancing. The New York subway suspends night services to allow cleaning.
In some Chinese cities, travelers must download and install a check-in application before taking public transportation, while Wuhan metro stations set up temperature controls. Some buses are limited to a capacity of 50%, imposed using on-board cameras, with opening windows suitable for vehicles previously cooled by air conditioning. In Hong Kong, a bus company even uses cleaning robots.
In addition to improving the cleaning regimes, hand disinfection points are installed in all TfL stations. Beyond the comforting smell of the disinfectant, commuters at TfL stations and stations will spot stickers on the ground to encourage social distancing in halls and platforms and hear frequent announcements reminding everyone to keep their distance. Station staff are asked to determine where commuters will line up – probably outside – and can arrange one-way systems once inside. “It will be a bit like going to the supermarket now,” said Marcus Enoch, professor of transportation strategy at Loughborough University.
Commuters who manage to board a car will not see the alternating seats taped as they have in some European countries, but the operators’ organization, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), has stated that there would be signs reminding people to leave empty seats even if it means standing up. For their own safety, staff will not pass through train cars, leaving the application of social distance to the British Transport Police, who have received an additional £ 1.5 million from the Department of Transport. to help manage overcrowding. LNER will require a pre-booked reservation on the services from May 18; others will likely follow. On the Manchester Metrolink, more double-length trams are used to increase capacity, and a spare tram was parked at Victoria station as an additional resting place for staff.
On the buses, the front doors were locked in April in a late move to help protect drivers, after reports of several fatalities in London alone. Across the UK, the organization of bus operators, the Confederation for Passenger Transportation (CPT), has said that the closest driver’s seats have been attached to some buses, with plastic screens installed there. where they weren’t already in place. Buses are removed from certain routes to add capacity to the core parts of the network, adds Enoch. “Around Bedford, where I live, for example, they use double bridges instead of single bridges, so they can separate people,” says Enoch.
The bus network will be limited to 20-25% of its usual capacity, said Tom Bartošák-Harlow, CPT spokesperson. “The buses are going to be very different from what they did in the pre-COVID era,” he said. “A bus that has a lot of space on it can actually be full with the driver displaying a” bus full “sign and only stopping when someone wants to get off. “
Skipping busy stops is about all that buses can do to limit passengers, notes Simon Jeffrey, policy office at the Center for Cities, especially with passengers who no longer board the front door. “Basically, there is a major problem in enforcing social distance,” he says. “There isn’t really an enforcement mechanism. “
In addition to staying at home and washing their hands, passengers can help with public transportation: wear a mask. However, in buses, national rail and metropolitan services, masks are not yet required, although they wear a “non-medical face covering”, as London Mayor Sadiq Khan describes them, is encouraged for passengers and masks are offered to staff.
Other ideas have been suggested. Enoch notes that buses and cars could deploy plastic screens to better separate people when distance is not possible, require windows to be opened to increase airflow or install better filtration systems. ‘air. Passengers could be required to pre-reserve a seat, as LNER currently does, and would only be allowed to enter a station upon presentation of a ticket, while ticket prices could be changed to encourage more aggressive off-peak travel. Businesses could set up local hubs to allow employees to walk to work or organize their own bus services, or private minibus services could find a place, although they have already struggled the UK.
There is a lot to do, but none of the tactics guarantee that passengers or staff will not be infected – they are just trying to reduce the risk. “I think it will be like wearing a mask and hoping,” says Jeffrey.
The simple fact is that public transport networks are designed for mass travel, and for the time being it is not healthy. The clear advice remains to stay at home and avoid trains, trams and buses – the solutions currently in place are only intended for those who have no other choice of transport and to protect staff transport. For this reason, and in order to avoid air pollution and switching traffic to cars, much of the attention has turned to cycling. Transport Secretary Grant Schapps pledged £ 2 billion for wider cycle lanes and sidewalks, while speeding up legalization of electric scooters, and London authorities have announced plans to create a no-cars zone in the center of the city and committed to increasing congestion charges.
Local authorities across the country are installing temporary cycle lanes using bollards and cones – and it’s not just in the UK. Temporary cycle lanes have been installed from Berlin to Seattle, and in particular through Paris, led by the mayor of bicycles, Anne Hidalgo.
But what works in Paris doesn’t necessarily apply to London, let alone other cities in the UK. Central London has 108 inhabitants per hectare and outside London 42, according to CBRE, while Paris has 212. “London is not so dense and this means that people do not live as close geographically to many other things, “says Jeffrey. Indeed, the average journey to London is a round trip of 21 km; in each direction, this represents approximately 35 minutes of cycling from zone 3 to the center for those who wish or can. Khan recognized this in his car-free plans by asking those who have to take the train to walk the rest of the way rather than getting on a bus or subway to complete their journey, if possible.
However, cycle lanes are emerging from Brighton to Glasgow, and this could help reduce the number of passengers to those tenths of capacity deemed necessary for social distancing. But success brings another problem: fewer passengers blow up a big hole in already troubled budgets. “It’s a matter of life and death for public transportation,” says Jeffrey.
So far, the government has provided £ 400 million to bus networks and £ 1.5 billion in loans and grants to TfL. These funds will continue to advance public transportation for the time being, but longer-term investments in improving or expanding services are expected to disappear, while fares are expected to increase. “The transportation world as a whole will be dramatically changed,” says Enoch.
Digital Society is a digital magazine that explores how technology is changing society. It is produced in editing partnership with Vontobel, but all content is independent of the editorial staff. Visit Vontobel Impact for more stories about how technology is shaping the future of society.
WIRED Coronavirus Coverage
?️ Failed nursing homes are the real coronavirus scandal
? New UK lockout rules explained
❓ The UK continuation program, explained
? Can universal basic income help fight coronaviruses?
? Follow WIRED on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn