The Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform recently launched a poll within its community to determine which issues were of most concern for regional authorities to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the Low-carbon economy theme, safety in public transport emerged as a major concern.

Poll outcome indicated that at its most basic, safety conditions require social distancing, frequent hand washing, and cleaning of surfaces. Though, required social distancing makes high density public transport a particularly risky environment. Collected best practices from different EU and non-EU countries related to COVID-19 and public transport allowed to devise following typology of measures to be adopted for a major safety:

  • Increasing transport capacity by raising the number of buses and trains in circulation, so that people can travel whilst maintaining social distancing;
  • Limiting ridership to certain users only, such as the dedicated buses and trams for vulnerable people, to provide transport services only to those who truly need it
  • Shifting demand away from peak times, encouraging people to spread travel out, so not everyone is trying to travel at once in rush hour;
  • Helping riders to make choices that alleviate crowding, by providing information on crowding, primarily being done through websites and apps, which gives information on carriage crowding when booking tickets, or demonstrate realtime vehicle capacity;
  • Enacting safety measures such as mandatory mask wearing, frequent cleaning and on board information. This includes free mask distribution, travel guidelines, other useful travel info
  • Restoring confidence through communication and public relations measures, such as the free train tickets offered to encourage people to return to normal habits and also boos the domestic economy. 
  • The inquiry ranked and assessed measures in relation to their ease or implementation and overall impact. Increasing capacity, general safety measures and shifting transport peaks were assessed as the highest impact interventions, though also the ones that were most difficult to implement. 

In terms of increasing capacity, this was recognised as being costly, with new vehicles potentially being needed, though it also presented an opportunity for car replacement to purchase new low-emissions and electric vehicles. For shifting peaks, discussions brought up the topic of peak and off-peak prices, charging more to travel at peak time in order to try to shift behaviours. General safety measures (cleanliness, mandatory masks, etc.), were viewed as less difficult measures to implement and are already widely used.

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