Public Transport cleanliness regime

Public Transport Cleaning Regime

We have seen the transition from Circuit Breaker to Phase 1 and now to Phase 2. We have seen how during Circuit Breaker, there were signs and stickers reminding us of how to keep 1 m apart or safe distance. Just before Phase 1 commenced ,Minister of Transport Khaw was seen removing the stickers. It was said that with more people going back to work and more people using public transport, it would be hard to keep safe distance.

How does Singapore keep commuters safe? What is the cleaning regime of the public transportation? The local news did a piece on public transports cleaning regime taking a test.

First we have to acknowledge that ridership has increased and people have to use public transport for anywhere between 10 minutes to 1 hour per day. Even the authorities have said safe distancing on public transport is potentially impossible.

TV host Steven Chia has admitted that he has not allowed his children, in Primary Four and Secondary Two, to use public transport since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. He is fearful that they might come into contact with someone who is infected, especially during the peak hours. Honestly he isn’t alone. Many people complained as they saw the stickers being removed. They asked- so safe distancing is only for Circuit Breaker but now we are being exposed? They have valid concerns.  While there has been no conclusive evidence of the coronavirus spreading on public transport, people do fear. A city like Milan, which is among the hardest hit, has not seen infection clusters emerge from reopening its transit system. Neither has Japan, which has some of the world’s busiest rail networks.

In Singapore, the Health Ministry’s investigations have not established epidemiological links between the 14 public transport staff who caught COVID-19 and the passengers with whom they may have come into transient contact.

But in other places, governments are not taking any chances and have responded with different strategies to manage risks. In New South Wales, Australia, passengers are capped at 12 to 25 per bus, and 23 to 36 per train carriage.

South Korea made wearing of masks compulsory on public transport to reduce the risk of a second wave of infection. This is also in Singapore, you have to wear masks at all times and commuters are also urged to avoid talking on phones or to others.

Since 1 June after the “circuit breaker” ended morning peak ridership on public transport has doubled and is expected to increase further in the current Phase Two of reopening.

Since safe distancing is almost impossible, public transport operators need to care for commuter safety by bolstering safe measures by other measures like cleaning.

When it comes to cleaning at stations and interchanges, common touch points like seats, queue rails and escalator handrails are wiped down with disinfectant about once every two hours.

Where the cleaners must be super-fast, however, is on the trains as they swoop in during service loops. As the local media observed, cleaning at the Circle Line (CCL) terminal stations, a team of five to six cleaners have as little as five to eight minutes to wipe down the train interior before passengers are loaded up for the next ride. Cleaners have as little as five to eight minutes to wipe down a train interior during service loops. Is that really enough? Also they do it while the train is moving. At HarbourFront station, where the track makes a loop, the CCL trains terminate at one platform before crossing over to the other platform.

The operators implemented this after Singapore’s Disease Outbreak Response System Condition was raised to orange level. This was done by increasing cleaning manpower. But the main cleaning is done before they launch the train from the depot. Which makes sense.

This daily overnight cleaning is when cleaners thoroughly clean the entire train’s internal touch points. Trains disinfected in the depot are also treated with antimicrobial solution, which is the rage now. Antimicrobial coatings have been applied to Housing and Development Board lift buttons and automated teller machines. And they have been progressively applied to the interior of trains and buses in a ramp-up of cleaning efforts in public transport since the circuit breaker. The coating works like a shield. When in contact with bacteria and viruses, its compounds puncture the membranes, killing them. Without this protection, the coronavirus can last on different types of surfaces for a long time as studies have suggested: Up to three days on plastic and stainless steel; and up to four days on glass.

Over at SBS Transit buses the application of antimicrobial coating since the end of last month, with nearly all its 3,500 buses coated in time for Phase Two of reopening.

This was done using a spray gun, instead of wiping down surfaces, for a more thorough application of the antimicrobial solution. And the “special disinfectant” used, called SD Pro, “can last about 180 days”, or about six months. Applying antimicrobial coating with a spray gun in a process called Electrostatic Disinfectant Spray. Using a spray gun in a process called Electrostatic Disinfectant Spray.

However one of the companies producing antimicrobial coating, jMedGuard, cautions that it is not foolproof there are “limitations”. The coating can be covered by dirt or other debri or scratched. And thus last a shorter time.

The media, Talking Point, did some swab tests. The results showed that the average readings for buttons, windows and handles were below 30, which is the cleanliness benchmark for critical touch points in hospitals. But the grab poles had an average reading of 101, in the cautionary range. This was because the frequency of touch there would be higher, and the chances of wearing (away) this coating on these surfaces are also higher. So any microbial coating that may be there may lose its effectiveness over time.

The operators are doing their best to do the coating and daily disinfection, but as individuals, people  should keep up our personal hygiene.