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Back on the bus: No cap on commuter numbers despite social distancing

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Southeast Queensland’s public transport network will face a key coronavirus social-distancing test with all Queensland students to return to the classroom on Monday.

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With all Queensland students returning to the classroom on Monday, the public transport network in the state’s south-east is set to face a key coronavirus social-distancing test.

In New South Wales, the State Government announced maximum numbers of passengers on buses and trains.

However, Queensland Transport Minister Mark Bailey said there was currently no need to introduce capacity limits here and commuters needed to use “common sense”.

Bailey said patronage on public transport had plummeted by 77 per cent during the pandemic, and even with school returning in full, social distancing was not a problem.

“There is no issue at the moment in terms of social distancing — there is a lot of space there for people,” Bailey said.

“[Quotas] is not something that we believe is necessary at this point, and the risk in Queensland is considerably lower than New South Wales where community transmission is much more common.

“We’re cognisant of the fact that when schools go back fully next week there will be an increase in passengers, but again, people are not going to just go back to how they worked before.”

University of Queensland virologist Professor Ian Mackay said Queensland appeared to be keeping the situation under control, and while children could be infected with COVID-19, they seemed to be affected less severely.

“The experiment goes on with us returning back to normal, as much as we can, while keeping that physical distance,” Associate Mackay said.

‘Public need to pitch in’

Authorities said cleaning on public transport vehicles had increased in response to coronavirus.

Passengers are not allowed to use cash to buy a ticket and bus commuters must board via the rear door.

“[We’re also] ensuring [passengers] are aware of how to socially distance and those communications will increase in coming days,” Bailey said.

Transport Workers Union (TWU) Queensland branch secretary Peter Biagini said the union would also like to see some seats blocked off to help ensure physical distancing.

He said safe social distancing needed to be maintained on public transport, but drivers should not have to be the ones to enforce it.

“Members of the public need to pitch in to ensure that there is social distancing happening on public transport — if we all do our bit we can come out of this stronger,” he said.

“We have been campaigning on having screens installed for the drivers for years to stop them being assaulted and spat on — if we had these in already then our members would be much more comfortable at work during this pandemic.

“We will continue to push for 10 days of special pandemic leave for any driver who has been possibly exposed to COVID-19 so that they can self-isolate without worrying about paying the bills.”

Patronage levels will be monitored

Mackay said air-conditioning systems on public transport vehicles helped dilute any viruses and said he was not sure if limiting seats was necessary, given the position Queensland was in.

But both Bailey and Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner said patronage levels would be monitored.

“If there are issues arising, that’s something we’re happy to have a look at,” Schrinner said.

“Ultimately it does require people just to use a bit of common sense to make sure they are as safe as possible.”

P&C Queensland chief executive Kevan Goodworth said catching public transport needed to be managed, but he had not heard of any complaints or concerns from parents on the issue.

“I think this will come out in the wash next week when we see what happens,” Mr Goodworth said.

“We are encouraging parents to talk to the schools.

“Schools are back on Monday and that’s where [the students] need to be.”

– ABC / © 2020 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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