ON Monday, Malaysians were informed that public transport operators will be stopping train and bus services between 10am and 5pm. As of Tuesday, Smart Selangor buses have also stopped their free bus services. The justification for this was to limit the spread of the coronavirus, and “discourage users from riding public transport”.
TransitMY wishes to inform Majlis Keselamatan Negara (MKN), the Ministry of Transport and Agensi Pengangkutan Awam Darat (Apad) that we oppose the decision to reduce public transport service as it will reduce physical distancing, increase crowding and the risk of disease transmission. It will also punish the B40 essential service workers by taking away public transport and forcing them to take expensive options.
There is a better approach than shutting down daytime service and reducing frequency to reasonable levels. Many public transport operators around the world have increased services to reduce crowding, and made their services free to ensure essential workers have the ability to move.
Copenhagen has increased the frequency of its metro system up to 1.5 minutes for a train, 24 hours non-stop. This step was taken to decrease overcrowding of stations and trains, so that commuters can commit to social distancing easily. More importantly, this came after Denmark announced a lockdown of all non-essential services, similar to our movement control order.
In the US and Canada, many stage buses have moved to rear door boarding to keep commuters from coming close to the bus captain. They are also taping off the front section of the bus, preventing people from sitting close to each other, and not carrying standing passengers. In some cities temporary bus lanes have been introduced to keep bus services reliable.
In sad contrast, the United Kingdom, London and Birmingham reduced the frequency of their tube and commuter services this week to discourage people from riding public transport and prevent crowding. This does not seem to be the case. A report from the Guardian shows that trains remain fully packed with thousands of essential services workers.
Back to Malaysia. With frequencies as high as every 30 minutes during the service periods (6-10am and 5-10pm) we worry about crowding and the effect on physical distancing as this would increase chances for the spread of the virus.
We are also concerned about essential services workers facing extra crowding and limited ability to move around. The “advice” for them to plan their journey well, or find alternative transport is punishing the underprivileged. These essential services workers like nurses and grocery store workers, who keep our supermarket shelves stocked, and those working the 3D (dirty, demeaning and dangerous) jobs need to have options. Most 3D workers cannot afford a RM20-RM40 ride to work and back.
Affordable, reliable public transport is how they are able to survive and provide service to all Malaysians.
The government and operators say public transport is important and worthy of billions in investment. We say that the service should be recognised as essential. Public transport is not only just an urban amenity, but also a lifeline for essential and underprivileged workers. The authorities should be more empathetic towards essential service workers and recognise mistakes in other countries and prevent the same here. Therefore, we ask primarily the MKN, the MoT and Apad, followed by Prasarana, Keretapi Tanah Melayu and other transit operators, to review plans to stop services from 10am to 5pm and reduce frequency drastically.
We urge operators to find solutions to keep services running while still allowing for social and physical distancing. We recommend:
» Discouraging the use of tokens/tickets to decrease risk of infection
» Ensure commuters keep proper 2m distance by adding lines of tape on floors
» Tape off every few seats on vehicles
» Hand sanitisers to be placed near faregates and platforms
» For bus services, use rear doors and if possible, enclose the bus captain with a barrier
If the government feels they must continue with the daytime shutdown, then they must be responsible and prevent crowding. This can be done by introducing temporary bus lanes to ensure buses are reliable and fast, and by increasing the frequency of trains even if demand is low.