How to avoid cars clogging our cities during coronavirus recovery



Iain Lawrie, Author provided

Iain Lawrie, University of Melbourne and John Stone, University of Melbourne

As we re-open our economy and workers gradually return to workplaces, overall travel will increase. However, the need to maintain social distancing means public transport can’t operate at usual capacity. And fears of crowded public transport will lead to commuters making a much higher proportion of trips in private vehicles – unless they are offered viable alternatives such as the ones we discuss here.

Impact of physical distancing on public transport capacity.
International Transport Forum, OECD

Our initial analysis (as yet unpublished) of Australia’s major cities suggests a shift to cars will produce severe traffic congestion if even a modest proportion of the workforce returns to their usual workplaces during the COVID-19 recovery. In this article, we suggest some public transport solutions to avoid congestion caused by a shift to car travel.




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Globally, this trajectory is already becoming apparent. As lockdowns are eased, car use is rising much more quickly than public transport use. The latest figures from cities as diverse as Berlin, Los Angeles, Chicago, Auckland and Sydney all show this.

What are the implications of this trend?

First, the shift to private vehicles will be a bigger problem in cities with centres traditionally served by public transport than dispersed, car-dominated regions. Modelling by Vanderbilt University in the US showed an 85% shift of mass transit riders to cars would increase daily commute times by over sixty minutes in New York, but merely four minutes in Los Angeles. This is because public transport serves a mere 5% of journeys to work in Los Angeles but 56% in New York.

In cities that rely heavily on public transport, or even those with car-dominated suburbs but transit-dominated centres such as Sydney and Melbourne, a shift to cars for CBD trips will very quickly overwhelm the capacity of the road network. Pre-pandemic, 71% of trips to the Sydney CBD and 63% to Melbourne’s CBD were on public transport. So, while travel volumes may remain well below pre-pandemic levels for some time, road traffic is recovering faster than other travel modes.

Sydney’s and Brisbane’s road traffic volumes have already returned largely to pre-pandemic levels even while most CBD offices remain empty. Melbourne isn’t far behind. Returning commuters are in for a shock.


Apple Mobility Trends

Apple Mobility Trends

Apple Mobility Trends



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What can we do about it?

Several commentators suggest now may be the time to apply congestion pricing – charging a fee to use roads in peak periods. However, when many people are making travel decisions based on the health risks, such policy may not produce the desired behaviour change.




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The alternative is to improve commuters’ public transport options, rather than trying to price congestion away. The aim should be to allow it to operate more effectively while still providing room for on-board social distancing.

This is no easy task, yet it may be politically and technically easier than rapidly bringing in a comprehensive road-pricing regime. Even with social distancing restrictions, public transport will use roads more efficiently than private cars.

This photo shows how much road space cars, buses and cyclists require to transport an equivalent number of people.
Cycling Promotion Fund/We Ride Australia

The return to work must be gradual and supported by considerable flexibility in working hours. This will help manage peak demands. But on its own it’s not enough if frequent public transport services continue to be offered only during a limited commuter peak.

More services, more often

So, public transport services need to run at high frequencies for many more hours in the day. Some analysts suggest services be run at peak frequencies for most of the day.

Many suburban bus services, particularly direct services along arterial roads, should run much more often than their existing peak offerings. Routes can be tweaked to remove unnecessary detours that lead to slow travel times.




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These frequent, direct services should be supported by rigorous cleaning, visual guidance to maintain separation on platforms and within vehicles, and tools to help identify crowded vehicles.

Most importantly, we need to rapidly create “pop-up” dedicated bus lanes right across metropolitan areas. These lanes allow buses to avoid being held up by increasing traffic volumes. Although bus lanes may reduce capacity for private vehicles, when buses run frequently they are a much more efficient use of scarce road space.

Faster travel times for public transport would, in turn, mean operators could deliver more frequent services with existing fleets and drivers. This would reduce the operational cost of allowing for social distancing.




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Frequent services on these pop-up corridors will provide a critical, time-competitive alternative to driving. Although not without its challenges, implementing a fast and frequent bus network is conceptually straightforward and the cost is modest compared to the congestion impacts it could offset.

This solution will require a nimble and co-operative approach from state and local transport authorities and private operators. Success will mean our transit-centred CBDs and district centres continue to function efficiently.

In the longer term, a fast and frequent metropolitan transit network will leave a lasting positive legacy, supporting carbon reduction and city-shaping investments such as Sydney’s Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail. Failure will lead to crippling congestion that erodes the economic and social strength of our previously vibrant cities.The Conversation

Iain Lawrie, PhD Candidate, University of Melbourne and John Stone, Senior Lecturer in Transport Planning, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Should I wear a mask on public transport?



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Hassan Vally, La Trobe University

As restrictions ease, many Australians will be wondering if it’s worth wearing a mask on the bus, train or tram to reduce their risk of being infected with coronavirus.

When Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth was asked about this earlier this week, he said:

If you are a vulnerable person and you have no other means of getting to work or around, it would be a very reasonable thing to do. We don’t think that general, healthy members of the community need to be considering wearing masks in that context.

Earlier, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said wearing masks on public transport “is not an unreasonable thing to do”.

But the National Cabinet has stopped short of making wearing masks on public transport compulsory. No wonder it can all seem a bit confusing.

So what does fresh evidence say about the benefits of healthy people wearing masks in public? And how do you use this to decide what to do?




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Yes, wearing a mask does reduce your risk

Until now, the evidence about whether wearing a mask out and about if you’re healthy reduces your risk of coronavirus infection has been uncertain.

But a recent review in The Lancet changes that. As expected, the researchers found wearing masks protected health-care workers against coronavirus infection. But they also found wearing masks protects healthy people in the community, although possibly to a lesser degree.

The researchers said the difference in the protective effect was largely because health workers are more likely to use N95 masks, which were found to offer greater protection than the disposable surgical masks we generally see people wearing out in the community.




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So, the take-home message is that masks, while not offering perfect protection, reduce your risk of coronavirus infection while you’re out and about.

In light of this study, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has updated its advice to recommend healthy people wear masks in public where there is widespread transmission and where physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport.

But how is this different to what I’ve heard before?

What this Lancet study adds is the best evidence we have so far that healthy people who wear a mask out and about can reduce their chance of infection.

It’s important to stress, the evidence is quite clear that if you’re sick, wearing a mask reduces your risk of transmitting the coronavirus to others.

If you’re sick or have been diagnosed with COVID-19 the clear advice is still to stay home and self-isolate. You shouldn’t be on public transport anyway!

If you’re sick, you shouldn’t be on public transport. The only exception is if you need to go out to get tested.
www.shutterstock.com

Masks also protect others

But how about the other possible benefit of wearing masks on public transport – minimising the risk of you unwittingly transmitting the virus to others if you don’t have symptoms?

Despite some confusing messages from WHO earlier this week, we know “asymptomatic transmission” does occur, although we are yet to pin down its exact role.

For instance, a recent review suggests as many as 40-45% of coronavirus infections are asymptomatic and they may transmit the virus to others for an extended period.

So, preventing asymptomatic transmission is another reason you may choose to wear a mask. That is, rather than wearing a mask to protect yourself, you could wear a mask to protect others.




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So, what should I do?

Given masks reduce your risk of infection and reduce the risk of you unwittingly passing on the virus to others, you could certainly make a case for routinely wearing a mask on public transport while we have coronavirus in the community.

This case is even stronger if you are at risk of severe illness, for example if you are over 65 years old or have an underlying medical condition such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes.




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Alternatively, if you are travelling on a short trip on a train and you have plenty of room to social distance, then you may decide wearing a mask may not be essential given the level of risk on that journey.

However, if you are on a longer commute and the train is crowded and social distancing is difficult, then wearing a mask could well be sensible.

If you do decide to wear a mask, then it’s important to make sure you know how to put it on and take it off correctly. And as no mask offers complete protection, you still need to physically distance where possible and wash your hands.




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The Conversation


Hassan Vally, Associate Professor, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sun, sand and uncertainty: the promise and peril of a Pacific tourism bubble



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Regina Scheyvens, Massey University and Apisalome Movono, Massey University

Pacific nations have largely avoided the worst health effects of COVID-19, but its economic impact has been devastating. With the tourism tap turned off, unemployment has soared while GDP has plummeted.

In recent weeks, Fiji Airways laid off 775 employees and souvenir business Jack’s of Fiji laid off 500. In Vanuatu 70% of tourism workers have lost their jobs. Cook Islands is estimated to have experienced a 60% drop in GDP in the past three months.

In response, many are calling for the Pacific to be included in the proposed trans-Tasman travel corridor. Such calls have come from tourism operators, politicians and at least one health expert.

Quarantine concerns aside, there is economic logic to this. Australians and New Zealanders make up more than 50% of travellers to the region. Some countries are massively dependent: two-thirds of visitors to Fiji and three-quarters of visitors to Cook Islands are Aussies and Kiwis.




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Cook Islands has budgeted NZ$140 million for economic recovery, but this will increase the tiny nation’s debt. Prime Minister Henry Puna has argued for a limited tourism bubble as soon as New Zealand relaxes its COVID-19 restrictions to alert level 1. Cook Islands News editor Jonathan Milne estimates 75-80% of the population is “desperate to get the tourists back”.

A Pacific bubble would undoubtedly help economic recovery. But this merely highlights how vulnerable these island economies have become. Tourism accounts for between 10% and 70% of GDP and up to one in four jobs across the South Pacific.

The pressure to reopen borders is understandable. But we argue that a tourism bubble cannot be looked at in isolation. It should be part of a broader strategy to diversify economies and enhance linkages (e.g. between agriculture and tourism, to put more local food on restaurant menus), especially in those countries that are most perilously dependent on tourism.

Over-dependence on tourism is a trap

Pacific nations such as Vanuatu and Fiji have recovered quickly from past crises such as the GFC, cyclones and coups because of the continuity of tourism. COVID-19 has turned that upside down.

People are coping in the short term by reviving subsistence farming, fishing and bartering for goods and services. Many are still suffering, however, due to limited state welfare systems.

In Fiji’s case, the government has taken the drastic step of allowing laid-off or temporarily unemployed workers to withdraw from their superannuation savings in the National Provident Fund. Retirement funds have also been used to lend FJ$53.6 million to the struggling national carrier, Fiji Airways.




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Fiji has taken on more debt to cope. Its debt-to-GDP ratio, which ideally should sit below 40% for developing economies, has risen from 48.9% before the pandemic to 60.9%. It’s likely to increase further.

High debt, lack of economic diversity and dependence on tourism put the Fijian economy in a very vulnerable position. Recovery will take a long time, probably requiring assistance from the country’s main trading partners. In the meantime, Fiji is pinning hopes on joining a New Zealand-Australia travel bubble.

Rarotonga International Airport: three-quarters of visitors are Aussies and Kiwis.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Out of crisis comes opportunity

Supporting Pacific states to recover is an opportunity for New Zealand and Australia to put their respective Pacific Reset and Step-Up policies into practice. If building more reciprocal, equitable relationships with Pacific states is the goal, now is the time to ensure economic recovery also strengthens their socio-economic, environmental and political infrastructures.

Economic well-being within the Pacific region is already closely linked to New Zealand and Australia through seasonal workers in horticulture and viticulture, remittance payments, trade and travel. But for many years there has been a major trade imbalance in favour of New Zealand and Australia. Shifting that balance beyond the recovery phase will involve facilitating long-term resilience and sustainable development in the region.

A good place to start would be the recent United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific report on recovering from COVID-19. Its recommendations include such measures as implementing social protection programs, integrating climate action into plans to revive economies, and encouraging more socially and environmentally responsible businesses.

This is about more than altruism – enlightened self-interest should also drive the New Zealand and Australian agenda. Any longer-term economic downturn in the South Pacific, due in part to over-reliance on tourism, could lead to instability in the region. There is a clear link between serious economic crises and social unrest.




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At a broader level, the pandemic is already entrenching Chinese regional influence: loans from China make up 62% of Tonga’s total foreign borrowing; for Vanuatu the figure is 43%; for Samoa 39%.

China is taking the initiative through what some call “COVID-19 diplomacy”. This involves funding pandemic stimulus packages and offering aid and investment throughout the Pacific, including drafting a free trade agreement with Fiji.

That is not to say Chinese investment in Pacific economies won’t do good. Rather, it is an argument for thinking beyond the immediate benefits of a travel bubble. By realigning their development priorities, Australia and New Zealand can help the Pacific build a better, more sustainable future.The Conversation

Regina Scheyvens, Professor of Development Studies, Massey University and Apisalome Movono, Senior Lecturer in Development Studies, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As coronavirus restrictions ease, here’s how you can navigate public transport as safely as possible


Hassan Vally, La Trobe University

As coronavirus restrictions continue to ease, one of the key challenges we face is how to deal with people moving around a lot more.

In particular, as more of us start to head back to school and the office in the coming weeks and months, more of us will be getting on buses, trains and trams.

So what is public transport going to look like as we relax restrictions, and how can we navigate this safely?




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Workplaces can help

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has emphasised working from home will be one of the last measures the state will ease.

But even when restrictions are relaxed, do we all need to go into the office as much as we used to?

Working from home has become the “new normal” for many of us, and we’ve learnt a lot about how to do this successfully. Employers have adjusted too, with some indicating they will encourage increased remote working moving forward.

So one of the obvious things we can do to reduce the numbers of people using public transport is to continue to work from home where possible.




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Another option is for workplaces to implement flexible start times. If we can reduce the numbers of people using public transport during peak times, this will make a significant difference in reducing crowding.

Public transport providers and governments

State governments have introduced additional cleaning practices on public transport networks. These will continue, and may even be increased, as more people return to public transport.

Although increased cleaning is important, physical distancing remains the key to safely moving large numbers of people again. Governments will need to consider some changes to ensure people can keep a safe distance from others on their commute.

Many people touch the same surfaces on public transport.
Shutterstock

As we’ve seen with the easing of restrictions, different states will take different approaches.

For example, New South Wales has imposed limits on how many people can board a bus or train. A maximum of 32 people are allowed in a train carriage (normally one carriage holds 123 passengers), while buses are limited to 12 passengers (capacity is normally 63).

Further, markings on the seats and floors of buses and trains indicate where people can sit and stand.

Marshals are also being stationed around the public transport network to ensure commuters are following the rules.

In a similar move, the South Australian government revealed they will remove seats from Adelaide trains.




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In contrast, Queensland is not imposing any passenger limits, instead asking commuters to use their common sense. The government says there is plenty of room on public transport in Queensland at present, and the risk of virus transmission is low given the small number of active cases.

Similarly, Victoria has not imposed passenger limits. But the government has indicated commuters will be able to access information about which public transport services are the least crowded to assist travel planning.

Some states have flagged extra services may be needed to avoid overcrowding, though the extent to which this will be possible is dependent on resources.

In addition to extra services, NSW has indicated it will boost car parking and enhance access for cyclists and pedestrians.

What can you do?

The main responsibility around keeping virus transmission suppressed as we relax restrictions rests with us as individuals to behave sensibly and responsibly.

The same principles apply when we use public transport as when we navigate all public spaces.

Maintaining physical distance from others and washing our hands regularly are possibly even more important when we’re using public transport, given we potentially come into contact with a lot of people in an enclosed space.

We know SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is more likely to spread indoors than outdoors. We also know prolonged contact with someone infected with the virus increases the risk of transmission, as compared to a passing encounter.

So public transport commutes have the potential to pose a significant risk of virus transmission, especially if you’re sitting next to an infected person on a long journey.

Masks are a hot topic.
Shutterstock

Taking hand sanitiser when you use public transport is a good idea so you can clean your hands while travelling. You may be touching contaminated surfaces, for example the bars and handles for balance.

In addition, washing your hands thoroughly with soap as soon as you arrive at your destination should become a part of your routine.

Importantly, if you’re sick you should not be leaving the house, let alone taking public transport or going to work.

What about masks?

Wearing a mask on public transport is an issue of personal preference.

But if you choose to wear a mask, it’s important to understand a couple of things.

First, masks need to be put on and taken off correctly so you don’t inadvertently infect yourself in the process.

And while masks potentially offer some additional protection to you and others, it’s still critical to follow physical distancing and other hygiene measures.




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The Conversation


Hassan Vally, Associate Professor, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus recovery: public transport is key to avoid repeating old and unsustainable mistakes



Shuuterstock

Hussein Dia, Swinburne University of Technology

The coronavirus pandemic has affected our cities in profound ways. People adapted by teleworking, shopping locally and making only necessary trips. One of the many challenges of recovery will be to build on the momentum of the shift to more sustainable practices – and transport will be a particular challenge.

Reductions in trips from January to May, measured by change in trip routing requests.
Apple Maps COVID-19 Mobility Trends



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While restrictions are being eased, many measures in place today, including physical distancing and limits on group numbers, will remain for some time. As people try to avoid crowded spaces, public transport patronage will suffer. Thousands of journeys a day will need to be completed by other means.

If people switch from public transport to cars, road congestion will be even worse than before, emissions will soar, air quality will be poor and road safety will suffer.

The capacity of mixed vehicle traffic is much lower than most people realise.
International Transport Forum, OECD. Data from Botma and Papandrecht 1991 and GIZ calculations 2009; CAV = connected and automated vehicles, BRT = bus rapid transit. Source: Synergine for Auckland Transport 2015, adapted from ADB and GIZ 2011; Shladover, Su and Lu 2012

Re-imagining our cities

Cities are repurposing streets to meet higher demands for walking and cycling.

But not everyone can walk or ride a scooter or bike to their destination. Public transport must remain at the heart of urban mobility.

We will have to rethink public transport design to enable physical distancing, even though it reduces capacities.

Impact of physical distancing on public transport capacity.
International Transport Forum, OECD

Public transport drivers need protection. Some responses such as boarding from back doors and sanitising rolling stock are needed but don’t reduce crowding. Crowding at platforms, bus and tram stops also has to be avoided.




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Crowding on public transport puts lives at risk. A recent study that looked at smartcard data for the Metro in Washington DC showed that, with the same passenger demand as before the pandemic, only three initially infected passengers will lead to 55% of the passenger population being infected within 20 days. This would have alarming consequences.

More measures are needed. There are things we need to stop doing or start doing, and others that need to happen sooner.

Increasing capacities by running more services, where possible, will help. Staggering work hours will reduce peak demand. Transport demand management must also aim to reduce overall need for travel by having people continue to work from home if they can.




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Managing passenger flow and decreasing waiting times will also help avoid crowding. Passenger-counting technologies can be used to monitor passenger load restrictions, control flow and stagger ridership.

Passenger-counting technologies can be used to monitor and manage flows.

We need to start trying new solutions using smart technologies. Passengers could use apps that let them find out how crowded a service is before boarding, or to book a seat in advance.

Other solutions to trial include thermal imaging at train stations and bus depots to identify passengers with fever. There will be many technical and deployment challenges, but trials can identify issues and ease the transition.

One solution for transport hubs is thermal imaging technology that detects passengers who have a fever.
Shutterstock

We need to accelerate digitalisation and automation of public transport. This includes solutions for contactless operations, automated train doors and passenger safety across the whole journey.

Public transport also has to be expanded and diversified to be effective in dense areas and deliver social value to residents. In some areas, it may function as a demand-responsive service and be more agile in its ability to transport people safely and quickly.




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Improving resilience

The lessons we have learnt about adapting how we live and work should guide recovery efforts. The recovery must improve the resilience of public transport.

Infrastructure investments, which are crucial for rebuilding the economy, must target projects that protect against future threats. Public transport will need reliable financial investment to provide quality of service and revive passenger confidence.




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The pandemic has shown how fragile urban systems like public transport are in the face of acute stresses.
Shutterstock

Importantly, the harm this pandemic is causing has not been equitable. The most vulnerable and the most disadvantaged have been hit hardest by both its health and economic impacts.

While many people are able to work from home, staying at home remains a luxury many others cannot afford. People who need to return to work must be able to rely on safe public transport.




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Building on momentum

By the time the lockdown is over, many of our old habits will have changed. The notion that we need to leave home to work every day has been challenged. The new habits emerging today, if sustained, could help us solve tricky problems like traffic congestion and accessibility, which have challenged our cities for a long time.

If there’s one principle that should underpin recovery efforts, it should be to make choices today that in future we’d want us to have made. If driving becomes an established new habit, congestion will spike and persist, as will greenhouse gas emissions. Faced with these kinds of challenges, rash “business as usual” measures and behaviours will not protect us from this emergency or future crises.

Cities that seize this moment and boost investment in social infrastructure will enter the post-coronavirus world stronger, more equitable and more resilient.

Let us commit to shaping a recovery that rebuilds lives and promotes equality and sustainability. By building on sustainable practices and a momentum of behavioural change, we can avoid repeating the unsustainable mistakes of the past.The Conversation

Hussein Dia, Professor of Future Urban Mobility, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Plane cabins are havens for germs. Here’s how they can clean up their act


Ipek Kurtböke, University of the Sunshine Coast

Qantas has unveiled a range of precautions to guard passengers against COVID-19. The safety measures expected to be rolled out on June 12 include contactless check-in, hand sanitiser at departure gates, and optional masks and sanitising wipes on board.

Controversially, however, there will be no physical distancing on board, because Qantas claims it is too expensive to run half-empty flights.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing airlines to look closely at their hygiene practices. But aircraft cabins were havens for germs long before the coronavirus came along. The good news is there are some simple ways on-board hygiene can be improved.




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Common sense precautions

As an environmental microbiologist I have observed, in general, a gradual loss of quality in hygiene globally.

Airports and aircrafts have crammed ever larger numbers of passengers into ever smaller economy-class seats.

Although social distancing can’t do much in a confined cabin space – as the virus is reported to be able to travel eight meters — wearing face masks (viral ones in particular) and practising hand hygiene remain crucial.

Since microorganisms are invisible, it is hard to combat such a powerful enemy. During flights, I have observed a vast array of unwitting mistakes made by flight crew and passengers.

Some crew staff would go to the bathroom to push overflowing paper towels down into the bins, exit without washing their hands and continue to serve food and drinks.

We have the technology for manufacturers to install waste bins where paper towels can be shredded, disinfected and disposed of via suction, as is used in the toilets. Moreover, all aircraft waste bins should operate with pedals to prevent hand contamination.

Also, pilots should not share bathrooms with passengers, as is often the case. Imagine the consequences if pilots became infected and severely ill during a long flight, to the point of not being able to fly. Who would land the plane?

For instance, the highly transmissible norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhoea, can manifest within 12 hours of exposure. So for everyone’s safety, pilots should have their own bathroom.

Food and the kitchen

Aircraft kitchen areas should be as far as possible from toilets.

Male and female toilets should be separated because, due to the way men and women use the bathroom, male bathrooms are more likely to have droplets of urine splash outside the toilet bowl. Child toilets and change rooms should be separate as well.

Food trolleys should be covered with a sterile plastic sheet during service as they come close to seated passengers who could be infected.

And to allow traffic flow in the corridor, trolleys should not be placed near toilets. At times I have seen bread rolls in a basket with a nice white napkin, with the napkin touching the toilet door.

Also, blankets should not be used if the bags have been opened, and pillows should have their own sterile bags.

Mind your luggage

In March, luggage handlers were infected with COVID-19 at Adelaide Airport.

As a passenger, you should avoid placing your hand luggage on the seats while reaching into overhead lockers. There’s a chance your luggage was placed on a contaminated surface before you entered the plane, such as on a public bathroom floor.

Be wary of using the seat pocket in front of you. Previous passengers may have placed dirty (or infected) tissues there. So keep this in mind when using one to hold items such as your passport, or glasses, which come close to your eyes (through which SARS-CoV-2 can enter the body).

Also, safety cards in seat pockets should be disposable and should be replaced after each flight.




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In facing the COVID-19 crisis, it’s important to remember that unless an antiviral drug or a vaccine is found, this virus could come back every year.

On many occasions, microbiologists have warned of the need for more microbiology literacy among the public. Yet, too often their calls are dismissed as paranoia, or being overly cautious.

But now’s the time to listen, and to start taking precaution. For all we know, there may be even more dangerous superbugs breeding around us – ones we’ve simply yet to encounter.The Conversation

Ipek Kurtböke, Senior Lecturer, Environmental Microbiology, University of the Sunshine Coast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is another huge and costly road project really Sydney’s best option right now?


Philip Laird, University of Wollongong

The New South Wales government has focused on delivering more motorways and rail links for Sydney, along with main roads in regional NSW, since the Coalition won office in 2011. The biggest of these, WestConnex, is still being built. Plans for yet another major motorway, the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link, are well advanced.

A hefty environmental impact statement (EIS), but incredibly no business case for a project costing about A$15 billion, was recently put on public exhibition. When submissions closed at the end of March, the vast majority of 1,455 submissions from public agencies, individuals and organisations were objections to the Western Harbour Tunnel project.

The NSW government has promoted the Western Harbour Tunnel since announcing it in 2014, but hasn’t convinced the many objectors.
YouTube/NSW government

The proposal follows three stages of WestConnex and the F6 Extension south of Sydney. Thousands of objections in the planning process did not stop the government going ahead with each stage.

This led to a state parliamentary inquiry in 2018. Its first finding was: “That the WestConnex project is, notwithstanding issues of implementation raised in this report, a vital and long-overdue addition to the road infrastructure of New South Wales.”




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However, the committee also found “the NSW Government failed to adequately consider alternative options at the commencement of the WestConnex project” and that “the transparency arrangements pertaining to the WestConnex business case have been unsatisfactory”.

These two findings apply to the Western Harbour Tunnel process too.

In the run-up to the 2019 state election, the government promoted the project and placed on public exhibition an environmental impact statement for the A$2.6 billion F6 extension between Arncliffe and Kogarah.

The proposed Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link.
Transport for NSW

The state opposition promised to scrap the Western Harbour Tunnel and F6 projects. Instead, it would give priority to rail and public transport upgrades.

Some have suggested time-of-day road congestion charges as a much better option than more motorways.




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Local government objections

Four councils made detailed objections to the Western Harbour Tunnel proposal.

The City of Sydney, noting “it has been a long-time critic of WestConnex”, said:

This is primarily because this costly motorway project will fail in its primary objective of easing congestion. Urban motorways do not solve congestion; they induce demand for motor vehicle trips and any additional capacity created is quickly filled. This phenomenon applies equally to the Western Harbour Tunnel and Warringah Freeway Project, a component of the WestConnex expansion.

The City of Sydney recommended the government provide alternative public transport options.

The Inner West Council, whose suburb of Rozelle will be adversely impacted by the project, has also long opposed inner-urban motorways. It prefers “traffic-reduction solutions to addressing congestion, including public and active transport, travel demand management and transit-oriented development, with some modest/targeted road improvement”.

North Sydney Council noted significant concerns with the EIS, including “inadequate justification and need, loss of open space, construction and operational road network impacts, air quality and human health concerns, environmental, visual, social, amenity and heritage impacts, as well as numerous strategic projects having the potential to be compromised”.

Willoughby City Council noted the limited time given for considering a very large EIS, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. It questioned why a public transport alternative was not assessed. “Known alternative solutions with lower climate impacts need to be considered to be consistent with action on climate change and improved resilience.”

Ignoring the alternatives

In 2017, it was revealed the NSW government was instructing transport officials to ignore public transport alternatives to motorways such as the F6 extension and Western Harbour Tunnel. Wollongong-Sydney train travel times could be cut by half an hour for A$10 billion less, according to a Transport for NSW internal memo.




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This is at a time when Sydney train ridership has been increasing faster than the distance driven by Sydney motorists. Rail showed 39% growth over ten years to 2018-19 and road just 12% in a time of rapid population growth.

Over many objections, the F6 extension is proceeding. Many aspects of the Western Harbour Tunnel need further attention. The NSW Ports Authority is concerned about the amount of highly contaminated sludge that will be dredged up from the harbour. The shadow minister for roads, John Graham, notes dredging will be close to residential areas.

Heritage NSW has noted the project will have direct impacts on six sites, including the approaches to Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The Action for Public Transport (NSW) group questions the influence of the Transurban company on transport planning at a time when NSW’s long-term integrated transport and land use plans aim for net zero emissions by 2050. Its submission says:

The funding for the project should be reallocated to more worthwhile projects such as filling in missing links in urban public transport systems, disentangling the passenger rail network from the rail freight network, and providing faster rail links to regional centres.




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What are these other priorities?

NSW has a shortage of “fit for purpose” rail infrastructure to serve a growing population. This includes the Sydney Metro West (an EIS is on exhibition) and ensuring the new Western Sydney Airport has a rail service. More funding is also needed to upgrade the existing rail system and to cover a A$4.3 billion cost blowout on the Sydney City and Southwest Metro project.

The government has acknowledged a need for better rail services to the South Coast, Newcastle, Canberra and Orange. In 2018, it commissioned an independent report on fast rail options for NSW by British fast rail expert Andrew McNaughton. The completed report is yet to be released.

The question now is should the Western Highway Tunnel be abandoned or, at the very least, deferred until major rail projects have been completed.The Conversation

Philip Laird, Honorary Principal Fellow, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Look beyond a silver bullet train for stimulus


Marion Terrill, Grattan Institute and Tom Crowley, Grattan Institute

Amidst a global pandemic, some people are starting to dream big about infrastructure projects to help get Australia moving again. The decades-old dream of an Australian fast train is back in the headlines. But, as alluring as it sounds, the federal opposition’s idea for a bullet train from Melbourne to Brisbane is not a good use of a generation’s worth of infrastructure spending.

After the coronavirus crisis, there may be good reasons to fast-track infrastructure to create jobs and stimulate the economy. But it remains as important as ever that funding go only to worthy projects. A bullet train does not fit the bill.




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No silver bullet

Federal Labor claims the train would be an “economic game-changer” for the regions in its path. But a study into the train, commissioned by Labor itself in government in 2010, found no evidence for this.

Any regional development was too uncertain, the authors concluded, to be considered in their cost-benefit analysis. In fact, they found the project could damage towns along the route:

The history of the impact of transport improvement in Australian towns is that they concentrate activity in the larger centres and create commuter towns lacking in higher level services. Without concerted efforts to the contrary, this is also a likely outcome of the introduction of HSR [high-speed rail].




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Of course, as advocates will be quick to point out, the study did conclude total benefits would outweigh costs by a considerable margin: $2.30 in benefit for every $1 of cost. But this rosy calculation was based on a series of assumptions that are either outdated or inappropriate. As our upcoming report on fast rail will explain in more detail, it’s unlikely the train’s benefits would exceed its costs if a rigorous independent assessment were carried out today.

The benefits are also narrowly concentrated. The biggest winners would be business travellers between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Wider benefits to society accounted for only 3% of the total, and the effect on economic growth was expected to be minimal.

That’s because the train would take a very long time to build. According to the study, the project would only be “shovel ready” 15 years after funding was committed. This makes it completely ineffective as a timely stimulus during a downturn.




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Advocates also argue the train would reduce emissions by taking high-emitting planes out of the sky. But a net reduction won’t be achieved for many years – maybe decades – because constructing the line would create so many emissions.

If built, this train would be the most expensive infrastructure project in Australian history. The study estimated the price tag at A$114 billion – A$130 billion in today’s dollars. As our chart shows, this is enough to pay for an entire generation’s worth of infrastructure.

Projects are not presented as an alternative to the train but provide a point of reference for the scale of spending required for the high-speed rail project. Projects in yellow have active government funding commitments. Figures indicate total project funding costs, including private contributions. Figure for the fast train is in 2019 dollars.
Source: Based on most recent figures from Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, Infrastructure Australia, NSW, Victorian and Queensland governments, Brisbane City Council, AECOM, ABS, Author provided

So what should be done?

It is true current low interest rates would make borrowing to pay for such a large project cheaper than ever before, and fast-tracking infrastructure may be justified to aid economic recovery. But that doesn’t give governments a blank cheque to spend on whatever they like. The crisis does not absolve government of its responsibility to scrutinise projects to decide whether they are worthwhile.

A good place to start is by identifying the problem you want to solve.

If regional development is the goal, other options are available to governments that are more likely to be effective than a bullet train. Infrastructure Victoria and Infrastructure NSW both identify better digital connectivity as a pressing need for regional and rural areas. The current strain on the national broadband network as many of us try to work from home is a good reminder of the link between connectivity and productivity.

If governments do want to focus on transport, “smaller picture” projects, though not as glamorous, tend to deliver more bang for buck, as previous Grattan work has argued.




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Projects that can be fast-tracked to start construction soon are also more likely to support economic recovery. Infrastructure Australia’s priority list suggests a range of transport projects and initiatives that are much further developed, including improving the Sydney-Canberra rail link. And the priority list includes projects that benefit all states and territories, not just the big three on the east coast.

The coronavirus crisis has upended many of our assumptions about “normal operating procedure” for governments. But it doesn’t mean we throw the old rule book out the window. Governments should only spend public money on projects that have clear and tangible benefits to society – not on grand “nation-building” projects that are big on style but low on substance.The Conversation

Marion Terrill, Transport and Cities Program Director, Grattan Institute and Tom Crowley, Associate, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.