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Social distance when you can, DfT tells public transport users

Public Transport

15 May 2020

The Government has published guidance for social distancing on public transport  but left it to the industry to  apply the detail. Passengers are also being advised to wear a face covering.

The release of the guidance came as the Government this week relaxed some of the lockdown restrictions in England, encouraging people in construction and manufacturing to return to work and allowing people unlimited time outdoors. Travel restrictions have not been eased in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

The Government is still discouraging use of public transport, with the guidance on spending time outdoors saying: “The advice remains that everybody should continue to avoid public transport other than for essential journeys. Therefore, people should only make these journeys by cycling, walking or driving in a private vehicle.”

Guidance for transport operators states: “Anyone that does need to travel to work can use public transport if they need to, but they should be very strongly encouraged to use other forms of transport where possible.”

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said last weekend: “Even with public transport reverting to full service, once you take into account the two metre social distancing rule, there would only be effective capacity for one in ten passengers on many parts of the network.”

The guidance note for passengers recommends that people  keep a two metre distance from each other. But it recognises that this “will not always be possible, for example when boarding or alighting, during security checks, on busier services, busier times of day, when walking through interchanges”.

“In these cases you should avoid physical contact, try to face away from other people, and keep the time you spend near others as short as possible.” 

Passengers are advised to wear a face covering, though this is optional. It is thought that face coverings may reduce the likelihood of someone infected with Covid-19 transmitting it other people. They are not thought likely to protect the wearer from contracting the virus.  

The Government advises public transport operators to consider “rearranging, limiting or removing seating to try and ensure social distancing is observed”. This could include by blocking off seats close to a driver or other passengers, and removing face-to-face seating.

Floor tape, signs or paint could used in passenger areas to help people keep two metres apart. 

Commenting on the guidance documents, shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “This guidance fails to answer the fundamental question, how do you stop the transport network being overwhelmed when it’s currently running at a fraction of capacity?”

A bus operator told LTT the DfT’s guidance was “helpful”. “It sets high level principles.”

The Confederation of Passenger Transport is preparing more detailed guidance for bus operators that will build on the DfT’s advice. Individual operators are then expected to flesh it out further for their own businesses.

LTT understands that the latest industry thinking is that bus passengers should sit by a window and no one should sit in the seats immediately in front or behind.

London Travelwatch says train operators are considering more controlled access to platforms and creating ‘platform zones’ that hold a certain number of passengers. Social distancing will be the responsibility of passengers.  

Train operator LNER is running a compulsory reservation system for all its trains. 

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