Physical distancing may be impossible on bus or train

People who use public transport may not be able to practise physical distancing effectively, the government has admitted, as it published advice for those who cannot avoid buses and trains during a staged exit from lockdown.

Anyone who needs to take public transport should wear face masks, keep their distancing from fellow travellers and try to avoid rush hour, the Department for Transport (DfT) said on Tuesday.

But the DfT conceded “there will be times and some settings on public transport where social distancing is not possible”.

In such situations, people are being told to face away from other travellers, avoid physical contact and cover their face when coughing or sneezing.

The department published guidelines that would help people minimise the length of time when they are unable to keep two metres apart from other travellers.

The guidelines include:

  • Travelling at off-peak times.
  • Changing routes and stations to avoid busy areas.
  • Walking part of the journey.

“The key thing is to not be too close to other people for more than a short amount of time, as much as you can,” the guidelines said.

“The risk of infection increases the closer you are to another person with the virus and the amount of time you spend in close contact: you are very unlikely to be infected from just walking past another person.”

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, urged people to join a “cycling and walking revolution”, highlighting plans to spend £2bn on changes such as pop-up bike lanes and wider pavements.

But he said that train and bus operators, as well as local authorities, have been told to increase the number of services they are running to prevent overcrowding.

Speaking to MPs in the Commons, he said: “Even as transport begins to revert to a full service, the two-metre distancing rule will only leave effective capacity for one in 10 passengers overall.”

The governments guidance asks people to drive, cycle or walk to work if possible. Shapps said: “If people cannot walk, but have access to a car – and I appreciate that I will be the only transport secretary to say this for very many years – if people have access to a car, we urge them to use the car, before they consider public transport.”

Bus, tram and train passengers should avoid rush hour and wash their hands before and after travelling.

Shapps also urged travellers to “be patient, and be considerate, to fellow passengers and members of staff”.

The shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon, said the guidance for transport operators was too vague.

“It leaves too much to chance and it fails to protect frontline workers,” he said. “It risks a postcode lottery on standards and protections, and there is far too much should, could, not always possible, as much as you can, rather than clear, directive guidance.”

He pointed out that Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showed professional drivers, including taxi and bus drivers, have had some of the highest Covid-19 fatality rates – and challenged the advice that they did not need PPE.

The ONS said on Monday that among male taxi drivers and chauffeurs, there have been 36.4 deaths per 100,000 – and among bus and coach drivers 26.4 deaths per 100,000 – compared with an average for men of 9.9.

Public transport staff will make clear to passengers how to stay two metres apart in stations, which will be configured to ease the flow of distanced people and will also be cleaned more regularly.

Anyone using a taxi may be asked to sit in the back left-hand seat, so they are as far as possible from the driver, according to the guidance.

Drivers are being asked to be more aware of cyclists and pedestrians, whose numbers are expected to increase. If people share a car, for instance through a car club, they should disinfect door handles, steering wheels and other areas, while wearing gloves.


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