Great news, commuters: the UK government has released its guidance for how to use public transport safely in the age of covid-19.
As is often the way with official government documents, the guidance is much shorter than it looks: it frequently repeats itself, as it offers basically the same set of suggestions for when using each different mode of transport. Much of the advice for how to behave in a taxi, it turns out, can also apply on a train.
The document begins by asking you to consider whether your journey is really necessary, and suggesting you walk or cycle if you can. A fair chunk of the suggestions that follow fall under the heading of “helpful, but essentially common sense”: if you can, travel at off-peak times; buy tickets electronically or using contactless payments to avoid contact; where possible, wear face coverings (this won’t protect you, the guidance admits, but could protect others from your germs).
Others, though, sound more like wishful thinking.
“Taking a less busy route and reducing the number of changes (for example between bus and train) will help you keep your distance from others.”
I’m sure that’s true – but the least busy route is not necessarily the one involving fewest changes, so the two halves of this sentence may contradict one another. And anyway, if less busy routes were available surely most people will take them already? “Take the least unpleasant route to work,” is not helpful advice.
This line has a similar problem:
“Try to start or end your journey using a station or mode of transport you know to be quieter or more direct. For instance, walk the first or last mile of your journey, or alight at an earlier station, where this is possible.”
Nice idea, but simply put, not everyone will have the option. Then there’s this piece of genius:
“Wait for the next service if you cannot safely keep your distance on board a train, bus or coach.”
Can we really feel confident that the next service will be quieter? Even though, on Saturday, transport secretary Grant Shapps said that the UK’s transport network would be operating at 10% of capacity?
That feels unlikely to me. In fact, elsewhere, the guidance all but admits as much…
“Some routes may be busier than usual due to social distancing measures or changes to previous timetables or schedules. Keep your distance from people outside your household. Public Health England recommends keeping a distance of 2 metres, where possible.”
That “where possible” is doing a lot of heavy lifting.
At any rate: it is probably better that the government issues guidance than that it doesn’t. But I’m not sure how useful any of this really is.
Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.
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