Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, has approved adjustments to public transport services to ensure the continued safety of passengers and staff during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Minister’s announcement comes as the Executive recommended that the public should consider the use of face coverings for short periods in enclosed spaces, where social distancing is not possible.
Welcoming the Executive’s announcement Minister Mallon said: “The recommendation that the public should consider the use of face coverings in enclosed spaces clearly applies to public transport and has been taken on the balance of evidence and in the best interests of public safety. It is important we recognise that and do all we can to encourage people to follow this advice.”
Recognising the evidence on the overall protection provided by face coverings is not conclusive, the Minister confirmed that face coverings will not be compulsory and passengers will not be turned away if they decide not to follow the advice. Minister Mallon also cautioned that face coverings must not lead to a false sense of security and that everyone must continue to practise social distancing, including on the public transport network.
Highlighting the impact of social distancing measures on public transport the Minister said: “Facilitating social distancing on public transport limits the capacity on our network to no more than 15% on buses and 12% on trains. It’s the right thing to do to keep people safe but it does have implications, not only for the financial viability of our services but also the capacity of the network to accommodate growing demand for travel as we reopen our economy and society. I have been clear with Executive colleagues that we must ensure, including through our funding models, that Translink is properly resourced to deliver the service we need it to deliver.”
To ensure continued social distancing is facilitated across all services, the Minister also announced that, in light of recent increases in the numbers using public transport, from Monday 11 May 2020, Translink Bus and Rail Services will operate a revised timetable. Minister Mallon said: “The last week has seen a few of our larger employers re-open their businesses and, while the overall numbers using public transport remain low, this has resulted in an increase in people travelling on some of our bus and rail services. The safety of passengers and staff on our public transport network is my priority and with that in mind, I have approved a number of service adjustments.
“It is also important given the range of cross border bus and rail services that there is cooperation on transport on an all island basis. I will continue to work with Minister Ross and the Irish Government to ensure there is a joined up approach on our transport network and clear communication is provided to passengers.
“Each of us as an individual also has a part to play. If you can work from home, you should continue to do so. If you must travel, try to plan your journey outside busier periods and for shorter journeys walk or cycle if you can. When the time is right to ease restrictions, I would also urge employers and businesses to support us in this regard by staggering opening and closing times to stretch the peak period.”
Confirming that Translink staff engaging directly with the public will, where it is appropriate and reflects Public Health advice, be wearing face masks or face shields, the Minister said: “It is important we recognise that it is only as a result of the efforts and selflessness of all Translink workers that our public transport services continue to run to allow our health and social care and other key workers to access their workplace and services. I am determined to do all I can to support and protect them and have asked Translink to ensure that all of the necessary procedures and Personal Protection Equipment continue to be in place to ensure the safety of staff.
“I would once again ask everyone to continue to stay at home to save lives and ensure that they travel only when it is essential to do so. I know that we have been socially restricted for an unprecedented period of time and we are all finding that challenging. However, your support in staying safe is greatly appreciated as we all play our part in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.”