Before starting to work from home, journalist intern Anesipho Gala used public transport to and from the George Herald newsroom in the industrial area every day. What she saw was shocking to say the least.
“Taking public transport in these abnormal times is an anxious experience for many commuters. Seeing the lack of hygiene in taxis and people’s careless attitude toward the coronavirus is scary.
“Ever since the outbreak of Covid-19 in George, I have been walking around in a cloud of fear. Maybe the person standing next to me is infected, or maybe I’ll contract the virus by touching some innocent-looking, but contaminated surface. I could be infected any time!”
Gala sat in a taxi with more than 10 people in it, and only two windows were open. She said there was no social distancing, and that money passed several hands before getting to the driver, who failed to sanitise his hands.
To make matters worse, many commuters disembarked from taxis and took buses, further spreading germs.
“When I get to the bus terminal, precious few drivers wear masks. Horrified I watch them accept money from commuters with their bare hands. I watch people press the stop button to request their next stop, holding on to the rail as they get off the bus, and the next person does the same, as does the next and the next and the next…”
She said the lack of awareness was scary, and just got worse during peak hours. The same routine was practised, this time with a larger crowd sweating from the day’s work.
“Everyone is rushing home, seemingly without any thought given to taking health precautions.
“At this point in the virus crisis, commuters should expect hygiene standards in public transport to be a lot better, especially in the Go George buses where there is a little more control than in the taxis.
“One expects the drivers to make sure that the passengers sanitise their hands before getting on the bus, tapping their cards or handing over money, and to not allow the bus to fill up to the extent that there are people standing. What happened to social distancing?”
Gala said when Western Cape Minister of Transport Bonginkosi Madikizela visited the Go George depot on Monday to view the mitigating measures taken against Covid-19 and inspect the roll-out of Phase 4B, it was an impressive show. Drivers donned masks and gloves, and buses were being fully sprayed inside and out with sanitiser at the Go George depot.
But the next day, it was business as usual.
The transport body claims it has taken action to improve the hygiene and cleanliness standards on buses, but that commuters needed to take responsibility for their own health.
Go George advised that commuters refrain from using public transport if they are sick, can make alternative arrangements, and if their trip is not “absolutely essential”.
It also said people should try not to use public transport during peak hours, to use their Go George smart cards to avoid using cash, coughing into a tissue or flexed elbow, and disposing of said tissue.
(Additional reporting by Nica Schreuder)