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Safety & hygiene in public transport

Enclosed, relatively narrow spaces, many people - this is not particularly conducive to avoiding infection. Even cold and flu viruses like to make their way through rush-hour traffic by bus and train. If you "caught" it, it was probably on your way to or from work. But that didn't stop anyone from using public transport to get to and from work. This assumption has only had real consequences in the last two years, because the number of people using public transport has fallen steadily since the beginning of the pandemic. Those who were not sitting in their home offices often preferred to cycle or drive their own cars to work. But public transport has done a lot - not only since Corona - to protect its customers from infection.

One possible route of infection, especially in the case of the SARS-Cov-2 virus, is the so-called aerosols. But droplet infection - i.e. sneezing or coughing - or smear infection via surfaces can also transmit pathogens. Handholds or stop buttons are vectors that are touched by many people and thus pass on germs, and the limited possibilities for ventilation also contribute to this. Therefore, public transport has always been suspected of being a possible source of infection, as it is used by many people at the same time, even at the height of infection waves. Not everyone can switch to other means of transport, such as car or bicycle, to reach their destination. Many are dependent on buses and trains.

Here, operators are called upon to protect their customers in the best possible way, not only from infection but also from possible injury, as passengers do not hold on. Even grab rails are not used in times of a pandemic for fear of possible transmission of pathogens. So what can passengers and operators do?

In addition to the legal requirements, such as the obligation to wear a mask and now the 3G rule, to which every passenger must adhere, the transport companies have done a lot to ensure that their customers arrive at their destination in good health.

Usage figures on the decline

However, as a survey by the ADAC showed, public transport usage figures are declining. After initial surveys in March and November 2020, 2,000 people were asked again in October 2021 about changes in their mobility behaviour.

According to the survey, the use of airplanes, trains, long-distance buses and public transport dropped significantly during the Corona crisis for fear of contagion. One third had indicated that they had travelled less or no longer by bus, tram or train since the beginning of the pandemic. Twenty-two per cent have switched to cycling, and the trend is rising. The car, on the other hand, is used by more than half of the respondents and by 20 percent more than before Corona. However, people are also driving less in general, which can be attributed to the home office regulation.

Air exchange the most effective means

To counteract this fear, many suppliers have extensively expanded their hygiene concepts. In addition to hygiene stations with disinfectant, as we already know from the retail trade, cleaning intervals with germ-reducing agents have been increased, as for example at the Munich transport company MVG. Also, all doors are opened at every stop. This happens automatically so that the door openers do not have to be operated. In addition, the hinged windows are to be kept open so that a regular exchange of air can take place. As is already the case in schools, the exchange of fresh air is essential to protect customers. In buses and trains with air conditioning, air exchange can also be achieved by increasing the air exchange rate.

Innovative, new hygiene measures for stations & the vehicle fleet

But new, innovative technologies are also being integrated into hygiene concepts. For example, at Munich's Marienplatz underground station, already in 2019 Munich public transport (MVG) installed in six steep and long escalators the ESCALITE UVC modules, which eliminate 99.99 per cent of germs on the handrails. A protection for the passengers that was already taken as a sensible hygiene measure before the Corona pandemic.

The VGF in Frankfurt has now also installed ESCALITE at the Leipziger Platz underground station. The method of disinfection with UVC light has long been used in medicine, is reliable and environmentally friendly, as no further use of chemicals is required. In addition, germs cannot develop resistance to UV light. This creates double and above all sustainable safety - against infection and against possible falls.

In many buses of the DB-Regio in North Rhine-Westphalia, at the Stadtverkehr Detmold (SVD) or also in the trains of the AKN in the north of Germany, all surfaces, such as handholds, door openers, but also the driver's cabs have been coated with the antimicrobial coating TiTANO. This continuously reduces the germ load on surfaces that cannot be regularly disinfected, are difficult to reach or cannot be treated with conventional liquid disinfectants.

Initiative #besserweiter

The #besserweiter initiative of the federal government, the states and the public transport companies shows how committed the transport companies in Germany are. Continuous information is provided about measures and current requirements, but above all about the various hygiene measures to protect passengers that are implemented by the different operators.

And that all measures together, such as mask, distance, and increased hygiene, show their effect is proven by various studies. For all mobile people, the risk of infection is almost the same - regardless of whether they travel by bus and train or by car and bicycle.

Ultimately, it is up to each individual

The pandemic has shown us once again what an important component hygiene is in today's globalised society. Many measures, such as correct hand washing or sometimes keeping a little more distance from each other, will certainly become the "new normal", even if Corona is no longer so acute at some point. But all the measures will ultimately be of no use if everyone does not get involved and actively participate in the preventive measures. Only together can we get such a pandemic under control. Washing hands, keeping your distance and wearing FFP2 masks are still the best protection against infection.


Photo credit: (c) AKN, MVG

Published: 18. January 2021

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