Local bus drivers are largely happy with measures that have been implemented to protect them during the coronavirus pandemic, a trade unionist has said.
Joe Murphy, Chairman of the Ulsterbus branch at Unite the Union which covers the Foyle Street depot, said that Translink management and the union have worked together to ensure that bus drivers are safeguarded during the current crisis.
Actions taken include the provision of hand sanitisers, social distancing, the fitting of protective screens that had previously been removed and a ‘no change’ policy to reduce cash handling.
Mr Murphy did say that drivers are awaiting masks but in the current unprecedented circumstances he feels that they have been well catered for.
“We’re trying to keep the service going as it’s important for us to get vital workers from A to B,” he added.
Ulsterbus is part of Translink which is the only state-owned public transport company left in the whole of the UK.
NHS workers in the North have been offered public transport services for free while the fight against Covid-19 continues.
Mr Murphy contrasted the treatment of drivers here to those working for private companies across the water.
Numerous bus workers have died in England after contracting coronavirus with Unite calling for all cash payments to be abolished and for better protection of workers.
Meanwhile, a Translink spokesperson said: “The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority and we’re taking all possible steps to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
“We continue to follow all public health advice as issued by the Public Health Agency and working closely with our Trade Unions we have implemented a range of measures to keep essential bus and train services running and to maintain safety for our frontline staff.”
She added: “These have included deep-cleaning vehicles, erecting screens to reduce driver and passenger interaction and providing hand sanitiser and gloves.
“We have also introduced a no change policy to reduce cash handling on board and we request that passengers use pre-paid tickets when possible such as mLink or contactless payments. These measures are in place to help keep everyone safe.
“We also continue to push out general health advice and guidelines including on social distancing across the network and through our digital channels and using the media.”
In answer to an Assembly question from Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson around protective measures on public transport, the Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon outlined her department’s approach.
She said “My Department is working with all Departments, agencies, operators and the Public Health Agency to respond to and plan for this evolving situation. No effort will be spared in our work to tackle the outbreak.
“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic I took the decision on 30th March 2020 to further reduce the public transport network.
“These measures are being implemented following the NI Executive advice to stay at home and in line with the significant reductions in public transport numbers that we are seeing as the public follow that advice. This has allowed us to reduce the network to primarily protect citizens and keep people safe.”
She continued: “My department also continues to work to protect our public services and provide resilience in responding to COVID 19. The changes to the timetables provide resilience in responding to COVID 19 and ensure we can continue to provide public transport coverage across the North of Ireland for essential workers at peak times.
“In introducing those changes a key priority has been to maintain the ability of passengers to follow social distancing guidance on public transport. Translink continue to monitor demand on individual services.
“Drivers have been instructed to limit passenger numbers to enable social distancing, with additional vehicles brought on should demand require it. Translink has also continued to liaise with the Public Health Agency on this matter. PHA has produced new posters on social distancing and these are being distributed throughout all vehicles and stations.”
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