Transport firms make coronavirus assurances as union urges staff to refuse to work if they feel unsafe

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coronavirus transport
South Western Trains has stopped staff from using whistles

TRANSPORT bosses have assured staff and passengers they are taking coronavirus precautions, amid unions urging members to refuse to work if they feel their safety is being compromised.

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Chiefs at bus firms Bluestar and Morebus, and train operator South Western Railway (SWR) said they had given their fleets a “deep clean” and brought in extra safety measures.

The response has come amid unions’ increasing concerns about exposure faced by transport workers during the Covid-19 crisis – highlighted by reports that several bus drivers in London have died in recent weeks after falling ill.

The RMT union, which represents tens of thousands of workers in the rail and bus sector, instructed members who feared they were not getting adequate protection.

“The advice says rail and bus workers should stop work and invoke the safe work procedure if employers do not follow key protection measures,” it added.

Employees should only undertake tasks necessary for running essential services – such as those for key workers – while staff gatherings should be avoided, the RMT said, social distancing advice abided, cash transactions minimised and staff toilet and washing facilities readily available at all times.

In response, Go South Coast, which owns local bus operators Bluestar and Morebus, said it was doing what it could to help employees and service users feel safe.

The operators had temporarily removed front seats to provide extra space, it said, were encouraging contactless payments, had new on-board passenger hand washing tannoy reminders and changed stops to help passengers social distance while waiting for services.

“We recognise many key workers rely on our bus services in order to travel, to carry out their vital roles,” said Go South Coast head of communications Nikki Honer.

“In normal times, we actively encourage social interaction on our buses – but these are all important temporary measures, designed to help keep everyone safe during the coronavirus situation.”

Bluestar and Morebus managing director Andrew Wickham said the companies had “introduced stringent measures”, and detailed: “Our buses undergo extensive cleaning regimes, which maintain high levels of hygiene for passengers and employees.

“These are carefully monitored and reviewed – with an even greater focus on high-touch areas,” he went on. “Our enhanced cleaning includes additional substances that kill viruses and bacteria on contact. Our drivers also have easy and regular access to hand sanitisers and washrooms.”

A spokesman for SWR assured: “To help maintain their and our passengers’ safety, we’ve reduced the number of staff at our stations and instigated home-working wherever possible to ensure social distancing.

“We’ve also introduced an enhanced cleaning regime to maintain the highest standards of hygiene at our stations, offices and on trains, which includes regularly replenishing soaps so colleagues and passengers can wash their hands frequently, in order to help reduce the spread of the virus.

“Following the latest advice from the RSSB, we’ve stopped staff using their whistles to help minimise face-touching,” he went on, adding SWR was working with the Rail Delivery Group – an industry body – to develop and adopt a consistent approach.

Meanwhile, Hampshire County Council offered support to bus operators by continuing bus subsidy, concessionary fares and home-to-school transport payments.

Deputy leader Cllr Rob Humby – who is also the cabinet member for economy, transport and environment – said figures showed public transport use dropped 75% over the past week or so.

“This approach seeks to offer at least some protection to the income of local bus operators and helps them to continue paying their staff and suppliers with the aim of ensuring that when things return to normal, the bus operators are in a strong enough position to go back to providing the same levels of service that we had before,” he said.

Cllr Humby also pointed out HCC recently relaxed the restrictions on its concessionary travel scheme, meaning senior citizens could use buses prior to the usual 9.30am threshold.

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