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Public transport experts are calling for the wearing of cloth masks to be mandated on trains, buses and trams as COVID-19 restrictions ease and Australians return to work, but medical experts remain divided on whether they are necessary.

The transport union’s call is in line with a growing push from medical professionals around the world for mandatory face masks, including in Australia where the “Masks for All” campaign protests against the official advice they are not needed.

Associate Professor David Allen, an occupational physician involved in the campaign, said multiple studies around the world showed cloth masks reduced the risk of spreading SARS-CoV-2 through droplets, including by people without symptoms.

“A large proportion of the spread is from people who don’t know they have the virus … It’s a low-cost, simple intervention and, in those countries that do have it, the risk of transmission is measurably lower.”

Australia’s chief nurse, Alison McMillan, said on Friday the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s (AHPPC) infection control group remained that “there is no evidence for the need of general use of masks in the community”.

McCauley, Jacks (2020-05-22)
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‘Almost 300,000 city workers would need to find a new way to get to work under new physical distancing measures for public transport announced on Monday, which only allow for 12 people on buses and 32 on train carriages.’

Rabe (2020-05-20)

My Quotes

And while Qantas confirmed on Tuesday that it would offer optional face masks to its passengers, Transport for NSW said current health advice still didn’t indicate masks were needed on public transport.

University of Technology Sydney transport expert Mathew Hounsell said one way the government increase density on the network, which is currently at around 20 per cent capacity, was through face masks.

“They are going [for] very strong on the distancing on public transport, there should be some discussion over time whether we can use some infection control measures on public transport to increase capacity,” he said.

Rabe (2020-05-20)
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Sydney’s bus drivers are being told to accept all passengers, even if they’re at capacity, in spite of the Berejiklian government’s new social distancing measures on public transport.

Rabe, Smith (2020-05-19)

My Quotes

University of Technology transport expert Mathew Hounsell said the government was likely designing its new “cautious” transport strategy to be deliberately prohibitive to force anyone that didn’t have to travel to stay at home.

“I think that might be part of their strategy, and it’s reasonable, sometimes restricting supply for an [oversubscribed] good is a way of getting [people] to do things differently,” Mr Hounsell said.

“You’ll either need five times the buses, or you can only move a fifth of the people. It’s simple math.”

Rabe, Smith (2020-05-19)

I would say the strategy would encourage, induce, or motivate people to change their travel patterns. For example, restricted transport supply would encouraging people to shop locally.

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‘Hundreds of thousands of Sydneysiders will have to change their commuting habits over the coming weeks as the state government looks to impose strict controls on the public transport network that may result in traffic havoc on the roads.’

Rabe (2020-05-16)

My Quotes

Transport experts have warned Sydney’s road network is unlikely to cope if everyone swaps their bus or train commute for a car.

“We are looking at basically ‘carmageddon’, where all the roads are full with the people that were on buses and trains [but are now] in cars,” University of Technology transport expert Mathew Hounsell said.

“You’re going to have the underlying problem that the road system cannot support all of the people that will need to come off public transport.”

He said as well as temporary bike lanes and a shake-up to some bus services, the best way the government could maintain some order on the roads would be to keep people working at home or commuting outside of peak hours.

“There will be roughly 800,000 people now needing to travel without using public transport, they can’t all go onto the roads,” Mr Hounsell said.

“We need to make some choices between what people are used to versus what will keep people safe in the long term.”

Rabe (2020-05-16)
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‘The state government may be forced to open up more city parking and build temporary bike lanes as commuters avoid public transport when offices in the heart of Sydney start to reopen.

Transport experts predict the easing of pandemic restrictions will cause a surge in traffic in the coming weeks as people avoid trains, buses and ferries. The pressure on Sydney’s roads will also be hit by tough social distancing rules imposed at train stations and on buses for those who do choose to take public transport.’

Rabe (2020-05-15)
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Sydney’s public transport patronage has fallen by about three-quarters amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the fewest number of people using the network in almost a century.

About 51 million fewer trips were taken on Sydney’s rail, bus and ferry network last month compared to March 2019, as cities across Australia shut down and unemployment rose.

The last time so few people were travelling on the city’s rail network was the 1920s, said University of Technology Sydney transport expert Mathew Hounsell.

“Transport is a derived need. Road and rail usage drop dramatically during recessions,” he said.

Rabe, Singal (2020-04-08)
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People living in 70 per cent of Sydney suburbs have experienced a blowout in commute times over the past five years despite billions of dollars being spent on roads and transport.

A belt of suburbs extending from the city’s west to its south and pockets in the northern suburbs experienced the biggest spike in commute times.

The average trip to work took 22 minutes longer in Rouse Hill, the area with the biggest blowout, last financial year compared to 2013-14, bringing the average journey to an hour and representing a jump of 60 per cent, Transport for NSW’s latest household travel survey has found.

Mathew Hounsell, a researcher at the University of Technology’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, said commute times could be rising because growing population density in many areas is putting additional pressure on road and transport networks.

Singal, Rabe (2020-03-16)
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Growth on the [NSW] public transport network has hurtled past long-term government predictions, with 93 million more trips taken on buses and trains last year [FY 2018-19] than what was forecast for 2031.

A report used by the NSW government as the “framework” for investing tens of billions in transport projects over the coming decades predicted rail growth would increase by 26% between 2011 and 2031.

However, the rail network reached and then exceeded that predicted figure by 2017, more than a decade early.

Rabe, Singhal (2020-02-19)

Several people have highlighted the government’s response.

Asked how it would respond to the patronage, the state’s transport agency said the department was “delighted” that demand was outpacing population growth.

Rabe, Singhal (2020-02-19)

This story in the SMH is based on research I conducted and brought to Mr Rabe’s attention, back in November 2019. It took awhile to get the all the planets aligned.

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