The other day I caught a train for the first time in weeks.
COVID-19 has meant that most of my travel has been on foot around my neighbourhood. I’m working from home, and I’m lucky enough that most of my daily needs are well within walking distance.
But on Thursday I ventured back onto public transport, small bottle of hand sanitiser at the ready, to run an errand in Cheltenham.
For my little jaunt it was Comeng trains both ways, so I had to open the doors by hand. Metro at one stage was investigating whether the X’trapolis and Siemens trains could be set to have doors open automatically – not sure what happened with this.
Cheltenham and Mentone stations are both closed (from March until August) due to level crossing works to remove three crossings. Instead of waiting for the replacement bus, I walked from Southland to Cheltenham, which took about 15 minutes, and gave me an opportunity to look at some of the works.
The big shutdown for these works starts at the end of this week: 23rd May to 26th July between Moorabbin and Mordialloc.
And the journey itself?
The stations were quiet, as were the trains. It wasn’t peak hour, but there were perhaps 3-4 people in each carriage – plenty of space to stay spatially distant.
Can people stagger their trips?
I’m hearing public transport patronage has climbed slightly since a few weeks ago. Instead of being 90% below normal, it’s now “only” 85% below normal, with around 300,000 trips per weekday.
The RTBU has called for actions (Paywall) such as a safety campaign and hand sanitiser at stations, which makes sense, though limiting passenger numbers per service would be difficult.
The key as things ramp up is for authorities to ensure there’s enough capacity that vehicles aren’t crowded, including frequent services right through the day so people can stagger their trips, as noted in this Channel 9 story last night:
The big problem is that staggering trips is that it’s a hard ask on most of the rail lines with 20 minute off-peak services, with trains that normally can be just as busy as peak hour.
With schools starting to return next week, and the economy getting restarted in the coming weeks and months, it’s inevitable that we’ll see more people on public transport.
The government will have to do everything it can to ensure risks are minimised for both passengers and staff.
Update: the NSW Government has announced restrictions on bus, ferry and train capacity – though it’s unclear how the latter would be enforced.
Trains will run at 24 per cent capacity and buses at 14 per cent for the foreseeable future, meaning Sydneysiders may be prevented from entering stations as they fill up or watch near-empty buses drive past their stops.SMH: Capacity slashed in Sydney coronavirus public transport overhaul