Public Transport Exposing People to Coronavirus Risk

Public transport regularly flouts the health recommendations of the government and places travelers at risk of contracting coronavirus.

Many local buses operating in the capital are seen carrying passengers beyond their capacity and, despite government order, hardly any of them have sanitation equipment.

On May 31, the government reset long-haul bus and minibus fares, raising them by 60 percent to compensate owners for transporting 50 percent fewer passengers to prevent coronavirus transmission.

From Sept 1, normal fare has been restored and buses are allowed to run carrying 100 percent of their capacity. However, the government regulations require bus operators to place hand sanitisers and other hand washing necessary for passengers and to disinfect buses in between trips.

But for travelers, the hassle has got worse. Ataur, a passenger who travels from Mirpur, said scuffles over fare between passengers and drivers are now normal.

“We need to remind them that the previous rate has been restored but we still get overcharged at least by Tk 5 to 10. Normally the fare would’ve been Tk 25 from Rampura to Shahbagh. I had to pay Tk 40 till Aug 31 but now it’s Tk 30,” said Muntakim Rahman, a student of a public university.

‘Suffering increased’

Mobile courts under executive magistrates are operating to take action against such misdemeanors, according to Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA).

On August 29, Minister of Road Transport and Bridges Obaidul Quader called on the owners and staff to operate vehicles in compliance with the health guidelines.

But the bus operators show little or no care about enforcing hygiene laws, despite overloading. It has seen some staff and passengers without masks.   

A conductor argued that, when boarding buses, passengers do not want to use sanitisers, prompting them to skip the move. But some passengers have accused bus operators of not paying attention to the guidelines on hygiene.

“We board these vehicles risking our lives because we have no other means of transport to travel. The drivers and conductors don’t comply with the health regulations and carry excess passengers that increase the chance of infection,” a passenger said.

Another passenger Raihan pointed out that the number of buses has not increased to the point it was before the restrictions were imposed.

“Still fewer buses are operating at the moment despite the government lifting the restrictions. It has exponentially increased the sufferings of passengers, especially after midday,” he said.

How safe is public transport?

Bangladesh has so far recorded 332,970 coronavirus cases and 4,634 deaths.

Flouting public transport health guidelines, such as not wearing masks or surface disinfecting, may cause anyone to catch the virus, but there are ways to reduce risk.

The main way that the virus spreads is through droplets people spray when they talk, cough or sneeze. That means the best way to reduce the spread of infection on public transit and elsewhere is to wear mask and stay 6 feet from others, experts said.

But that rule is not observed as the bus operators accommodate full-capacity passengers. That means that there is virtually no space between passengers sitting side by side. And many don't wear masks on top of that.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises traveling at non-peak hours, avoiding busy areas in stations and stops and, where possible, skipping rows between seats.

Surfaces are often thought to pose a danger, but to a lesser extent, and a number of cleaning techniques are employed in transit systems. The CDC says if you can stop hitting surfaces like turnstiles, and handrails.  

Though much remains unknown about the virus and how it spreads, experts note there have not yet been any major outbreaks linked to transit systems.

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