As part of a webinar series to help Indian cities develop COVID-19 transport solutions, the first one focused on Public Transport SOPs to ensure the safety of crew and passengers. The series is presented by Smart City Mission, the Government of India and Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) in partnership with the Transport & ICT Group of the World Bank and GIZ.
Kunal Kumar, Joint- Secretary, Smart Cities Mission, said that it was essential to look at how mass transit, walking and cycling can be reimagined in the future. He added that it is important to note what interventions have succeeded and which ones haven’t and that conversations around this topic should focus on the needs of the eco system. With regard to a national level program for financial assistance to public transportation, he said there is a need to construct the problem of financing public transport in terms of what kind of support STUs need to help put the agenda at the forefront. This is probably the best time to discuss alternate sources of finance such as carbon tax, charging parking fees, getting money from transitoriented development and vehicle ownership tax.
Addressing the issue of whether people will come back to use public transport, Shreya Gadepalli, South Asia Programme Lead of ITDP said that as nearly 70% of people had travelled by walking, cycling, or by using public transport before the pandemic, it is crucial that they continue to do so.
To ensure the safety of staff, schedules should be prepared, and safety gear, healthcare and insurance must be provided. Buses must be disinfected before every trip, terminals disinfected every 2-3 hours and the record of disinfection displayed, and sanitizer dispensers must be installed at terminals. Clear multimedia communication must be used to disseminate information on safety protocols, bus schedules, and alternative modes of travel passengers. And finally, to ensure the safety of passengers, wearing of masks should be enforced, crowding controlled, and contactless payment solutions deployed. There should be separate buses for high risk passengers like healthcare and other sanitation workers.
This will only be possible with adequate financial support. A strong stimulus package for public transport should be looked at as a social good to control private vehicles to deal with congestion, road safety, and health problems. Technology should also be leveraged to improve user experience and informal transport like auto rickshaws should be professionalized. Finally, we should ensure that cities expand walking and cycling measures which will reduce the strain on the public transport system.
Actions taken by Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation
Sharing actions taken by BMTC, Managing Director, C Shikha IAS stated that during the lockdown period, BMTC operated only for essential and health services, customizing the routes accordingly. It also assisted in government evacuation programs by providing 250 buses for 21,000 stranded labourers. Exhaustive safety measures were put in place before starting operations with the establishment of a Strategic Working Group for epidemic prevention and control, and the preparation of detailed SOPs for post- lockdown operations.
Safety measures for crew included health checkups and daily thermal scanning, providing protective equipment, and special allowances for working during the lockdown. To ensure passenger safety, frequent sanitization of buses and premises is carried out, hand sanitizers provided on board, mandatory mask usage enforced, and physical distancing implemented. Buses are running at 50% capacity with boarding from the rear and alighting from front protocols in place. Ideally a No Standees policy should also be implemented to prevent further spread of infection.
In addition, Communication and Outreach campaigns such as dynamic information displays in terminals, awareness material inside and outside the buses, and training programs from the Department of Health and Welfare have been carried out. Other measures to be implemented include digital ticketing, weekly passes and QR code scanning on buses, and implementing Bus Priority Lanes.