Financial Tribune – Social distancing is almost impossible in a crowded city like Tehran, unless more buses and taxis are added to the public transportation fleet, Tehran City Council chief says.
During a Sunday meeting with urban managers and TCC councilors, Mohsen Hashemi expressed concerns that citizens would not be able to observe social distancing in Tehran while using public transportation, Mehr News Agency reported.
Social distancing is considered the most effective way of curbing the rapid spread of the killer coronavirus disease, COVID-19.
ISNA reports that 302 Tehran taxi drivers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 13 have died from the disease.
Using public transport services is considered hazardous for drivers and passengers, as the number of people getting infected by coronavirus continues to rise.
Based on the directive of the national coronavirus taskforce headed by President Hassan Rouhani, the so-called low-risk businesses have resumed activities from Saturday and the ban on inter-province travels placed to curb coronavirus transmission will be lifted on April 20. Buses, taxis and the subway are once again packed with people.
“As the virus is still creeping around in the city and situation has not normalized, the resumption of social activities can make it tough to handle mortalities related to the disease,” Hashemi said.
He underlined the warnings of Health Ministry and professionals over the risk of contamination in the use of public means of transportation and said, “Public vehicles are more polluted compared to universities and schools. So extra care should be taken by citizens using them for commutation.”
Over 300 Tehran taxi drivers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 13 have died from the disease
Adding to his concerns, Hashemi said the ventilation system of subway trains are concentrated, meaning that the air in wagons is constantly circulating and combining with the air outside the train.
“This means one infected person in a train car can most possibly pollute the air in all cars. There is a strong possibility of the second wave of coronavirus pandemic starting in the city, if nothing is done about the issue,” he added.
Hashemi suggested that boosting the production of vehicles can help increase the number of buses and taxis working in the transportation system.
“Only then people can partially adhere to social distancing,” he added.
Pointing to the fact that the budget allocated to the supply of buses and taxis have never been adequate in the past several years, Hashemi said the annoying shortage of vehicles is absolutely tangible in the city. He called on the government and banks to help resolve the issue.
Cabs Doing Good
In line with social distancing policies, cabs in Tehran have been ordered to accept only three passengers (instead of four) per trip, with no fare increase.
Alireza Qannadan, the head of Tehran Taxi Organization says although a large number of cabbies have so far adhered to the rule, the policy poses negative effects on the livelihood and income of drivers.
“We cannot implement a national scheme discounting people’s daily income. Of course, the government should pay financial allowance to drivers to compensate for their loss,” he said.
“This can also motivate the cabbies to continue their efforts and sincerely adhere to the rules.”
Iran reported the virus outbreak in mid-February, which has so far taken the lives of 4,474 people out of a total of 71,686 infected people.
According to Iran’s Health Ministry, 43,894 patients have so far recovered from the disease.
According to Tehran Municipality, the number of buses operating in Tehran hardly reaches 6,000 which, according to experts, is half the number required for offering acceptable transportation services.
Experts say the average age of the fleet is over 11 years, such that 50% of the buses plying the streets of Tehran are dilapidated and fit for the scrapyard.
These old buses have numerous technical flaws and cause inconvenience to passengers, apart from worsening the air pollution suffocating Tehran’s residents.
Besides, 1,000 subway cars are currently operating in the capital’s urban subway system, 30% of which need to be upgraded.
The capital’s subway stretches over 220 kilometers and comprises seven lines (1 to 7) with nearly 120 stations. Lines 6 and 7 are yet to become fully operational.
On a normal day, over four million people use the subway for commute. TM expects the number to surge by 25% after subway lines 6 and 7 are up and running.
But this is definitely not enough for Tehran where, according to statistics, where millions of people commute daily, many from the surrounding cities and towns.
Public transportation expansion projects have become a challenging task for managers in Iranian metropolises because of the rising demand for the government budget.
However, officials have been making efforts to overcome the funding shortcomings.
In late February, the government intended to use the National Development Fund to help Tehran Municipality buy 630 subway cars and 3,000 new buses.
The arrangement was announced at the time when Es’haq Jahangiri, first vice president, and Hashemi, discussed ways of expanding the capital’s public transportation network.
Mohammad Alikhani, the head of TCC’s Transportation Commission, told the media that the government will allocate the budget as soon as experts estimate the price and select the supplier companies.