Forum: Close virus transmission loophole in public transport

A photo from March 27, 2020, shows commuters in the MRT after the implementation of social-distancing measures.
A photo from March 27, 2020, shows commuters in the MRT after the implementation of social-distancing measures.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

I am impressed by our Government's decisiveness in implementing measures needed to manage the Covid-19 situation in Singapore.

The latest implementation of social distancing is a major step in enforcing physical separation to stem the virus spread (New restrictions are to prevent 'super-spreader events': Wong, March 26).

I am concerned, however, that nothing has been communicated so far on what distancing measures are being considered on public transport such as trains and buses.

It is worth noting that many other countries shut down their public transport networks either partially or fully, as in India and China.

It is unthinkable that all distancing measures in Singapore end the moment someone boards a train or a bus, especially with the millions of trips made by commuters each day.

I believe many of us already exercise discretion and consciously avoid boarding a train or bus when it is already crowded.

However, relying on individual civic discretion is not good enough. The Government needs to take a formal position on what is expected from public transport operators and commuters.

Many elements of the distancing measures implemented earlier can be easily adapted to public transport. For example, having alternate seats unoccupied.

Station staff should be empowered to determine when a train on the platform is at maximum "safe" capacity and to stop people from boarding.

Bus captains should be empowered to not allow passengers to board if they feel their bus is already full.

To mitigate the impact of reduced capacity due to such measures, trains and buses may have to run more frequently.

Profitability will be negatively affected and many commuters will be inconvenienced.

However, if the focus is to reduce mortality rates, temporary distancing measures on public transport should be the key to "closing the loop" in the slew of measures that have been painstakingly implemented so far.

Alvin Toh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2020, with the headline 'Close virus transmission loophole in public transport'. Print Edition | Subscribe