Protecting Public Transport from the Coronavirus… and its Frontline Workers

woman looking out train window protecting public transport

Protecting public transport which is the lifeblood of any city, needs to be acknowledged. People can freely move around because of public transportation. They can afford to live in urban cities because of the affordable option of taking buses, trains, and cabs.

They don’t rely on buying and maintaining a car. Even during a pandemic, it is important to keep public transportation up and running because people still need to go to their jobs and attend to personal matters.

But it is also not surprising that public transport was one of the hardest-hit sectors during the coronavirus outbreak last year. Governments imposed strict social distancing protocols. However, social distancing and mass transit are two concepts that don’t go well together. Many still need to take buses, trains, and cabs for work and other essential needs. Also, frontline workers in public transport companies are the most vulnerable since they have to maintain, sanitize, and inspect the vehicles.

Passenger numbers in cities around the world are declining by 40%. Some cities showed a 70% reduction in the number of public transport passengers. This is also the reason why there’s an increased interest in buying brand-new and second-hand cars. Now, the problem is the public transport workforce. How are they supposed to avoid mass transit when they are working there themselves?

What Nations Are Doing

To understand what the public transport sector must do, it’s important to take a look at what countries are doing. Despite granular lockdowns and small outbreaks, Singapore has been largely successful in keeping the virus from affecting public transportation. This is because SMRT CEO Neo Kian Hong is adamant about knowing what’s happening on the ground.

This is an important aspect of protecting public transport: doing the rounds and knowing what’s happening so that that management can address the issues immediately.

In Singapore, the very basic and obvious rule that SMRT imposed is for passengers to refrain from talking. In fact, employees started holding placards to remind passengers of that protocol in March this year. The fewer people talk the fewer chances of transmitting the virus.

China is the leader in terms of stopping the rapid transmission of the virus. It comes as no surprise either since its form of government allows it to impose strict restrictions and protocols on people.

The Chinese government reduced public transportation in cities with high COVID cases. It is also heavy on sanitation and hygiene. Of course, public transportation vehicles can only take in 50% of their usual capacity in almost all cities since passengers need to distance themselves from each other.


person in white protection gear holding a spray container

Public transit has to comply with health protocols on disinfection. This means sanitizing trains and buses as soon as the trains arrive at the station.

There are also hand sanitizers and portable hand washers for both workers and passengers. Deep-cleaning the vehicles is even more important now than before, so the management has to set a schedule for proper cleaning routines.


While face masks and face shields (in some countries) help curb the spread of the virus, it’s social distancing that health experts say is important in keeping transmission levels at bay. This means that stations need to have separate entrances and exits routes to keep people from bumping into each other.

Turnstiles and boarding platforms use plastic and glass barriers to provide protection to passengers and workers.


It’s important for passengers to understand how to move while riding public vehicles. Signs on the floor pointing to where passengers should enter and exit are important.

Also, important are placards to discourage unnecessary travel and to disseminate information on how to access medical help. Operators also use signs to enforce spacing in trains and buses. Passengers only have to follow the guide.

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Contact Tracing

If used well, contact tracing technologies are the most important in combating the spread of the disease. Passengers can pre-check-in in trains using the system. This will alarm the public transport company if certain routes are already filled to capacity. They will close reservations for tickets, so passengers know now to squeeze themselves into these schedules and routes.

It is not practical, of course, to limit the capacity of public transport for an extended period. Many workers depend on this industry, so it needs to recover financially.

The way forward is to adjust the safety parameters as the number of coronavirus cases slows down, and government begins to reopen economies. The priority is to draft recovery measures for the public transport sector and to ensure the financial sustainability of this industry.

Images courtesy of Pixabay, UnSplash, and Pexels.

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