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Soapbox: The commuters’ roulette
(Name withheld upon request)
"Wash hands frequently"… "Catch coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues"… "Throw away used tissues (then wash hands)” and "If you don't have a tissue, use your sleeve")…
Apparently, these measures to help prevent someone from catching and spreading the Coronavirus cannot really apply when using public transport in the UK. Just take my daily commute into London for example...
I board the train, sometimes having to use a touchscreen ticket machine first, press buttons to open train doors and sometimes have to hold onto something on the train when there are no seats. Either way, I usually pass the time by reading the news; meaning touching my phone again and again.
There are rarely bins within reach but where there are, people are touching the lids to open them, probably before touching another train surface (think hands soiled by soggy tissue after nose-blowing). There are no hand washing facilities on the commuter trains in my two regions so how many people are contaminating several surfaces before they even leave the train? My journey takes some 35 minutes – that’s 35 minutes of being crammed tightly into a hot and stuffy carriage. I have to touch my ticket a couple of times to get through the barriers before using my phone again within a few minutes.
After my train journey, I pick up a bus from one of London's biggest bus stations. Same story again, though I tend to have to hold several poles on my 15-minute bus commute while the bus stops and starts. Crowding means people are knocking into one another and are within a half a metre of the next person's breath.
I finally get to work, but have to touch my work pass for access. On my way to the office, I touch the button for the lift, sometimes the stair-rail and several doors before I can get to a basin to wash my hands properly.
So, by the time I get to work, I've probably touched at least 20 unclean surfaces, transferring germs I’ve picked up from other travelers, onto surfaces for other commuters to pick up in turn. I take the contamination all the way to work with me.
My question is, why is it so hard for UK public transport providers to help protect commuters by putting hand sanitiser dispensers at every station and on every bus?
Increasing class sizes and possible city lockdowns are being mooted, but no word yet of helping to provide disinfection measures on public transport and at stations…
Other countries are doing it already, but why aren't our own public transport providers taking obvious measures?
With new train strikes on the horizon, there will be fewer trains, meaning that those running will be more crowded, which will have a knock-on effect on bus overcrowding, too, raising infection levels even more quickly.
Until simple measures are taken on public transport, it's ‘take your infection to work and back home again day’ for millions of commuters in the UK – a game of roulette we could have certainly helped to avoid.
And while I’m here… the toilets at Vauxhall Station are by far the most disgusting I have ever been into. If I do need to use them, I hold my breath for as long as I can. There is what appears to be blood and excrement smeared on the walls and it has been there a good while. There is no excuse for it not having been cleaned properly.
To add insult to injury, I have just received a work email advising all staff to wash their hands after using public transport… Clearly written by someone who doesn’t let the train (or bus) take the strain…
5th March 2020