Just Wear your Mask; Especially on the Bus – FTAI

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Clear unambiguous safety messaging needed to aid economic recovery! Law or not, people should take the advice to wear face masks (face coverings). There has been enough commentary for the public to know that it will help. Why is the need to wait for a law to make us do something that makes sense, asks the Freight Transport Association Ireland (FTAI). 

Aidan Flynn, General Manager, FTAI reports: Face masks (face coverings) have fashioned quite a bit of controversy and debate over the past number of weeks and months. This was been driven in some part by the confusion generated by NPHET (National Public Health Emergency Team) and the Government position that ‘face coverings are recommended in situations where it is difficult to practise social distancing’ but without the commitment to convince people that they are worth considering. It is touted that only 10% of public bus users are wearing face coverings as at the 15th June 2020.

This position is countered by the likes of Professor Luke O’Neill who has taken a much more pragmatic approach to this question by declaring that ‘evidence has got stronger and stronger to support the use of face masks and that they should be worn on public transport, like what they are doing in the UK’. Most recently the Minister for Health, Simon Harris has declared; ‘Face coverings are not magic shields, but they can help you stop spreading your droplets to someone else’.

The Irish people have demonstrated very effectively their respect for authority’s guidance and requirements over the past number of months during lockdown, suppressing the spread of this deadly virus. However, it is clear that if safety measures are to be adopted by the population there needs to be clear and unambiguous messaging that encourages use of safety measures like facemasks. The differing messages is creating a situation where most people are not using face coverings even in situations where physical distancing cannot be maintained. This is a very important point when we consider public transport. The availability of places on buses and trains will be critical in helping our economy recover quicker. If face coverings and hand sanitiser became mandatory rather than a recommendation, we should expect that the physical distancing could be reduced on these modes of transport as the precautions taken were sufficient to maintain safety. This needs to happen. It is not good enough that the intransigence of our political leaders on issues like this have a direct consequence on the economy and ultimately prolonged consequences for the coach and bus industry. At the time of writing the Government parties and the National Transport Authority have refocused their attention on wearing of facemasks on public transport. The fact that this Government no longer has legislative powers is probably the main reason that the use of masks is not mandatory and also another reason why we need a new Government formed as a matter of haste.

It is therefore welcomed news that the formation of a new Government is imminent, after Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party confirmed they had agreed to set up an alliance to govern. The complexity of the current political landscape has manifested itself in the time taken to develop a detailed and expansive programme for Government. It is over 130 days since the General Election and we face at least another couple of weeks before a new Government can be formed due to each political party’s approval procedures. At a time when urgency is required to govern and the challenges are great and if Irish business is to be protected moving forwards, there are many urgent questions to answered by the new administration. The COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges that none of us could have predicted at the start of the year and, while our sector has reacted with resilience, it is now time to focus on recovery and the next big issue facing our sector, Brexit.  Confirmation from the UK Government that it will not be seeking an extension to the transition period at least creates a timeline for industry’s preparations, but time is not on the side of business if it is to adapt to new processes and procedures.

PSV Challenges

The current COVID-19 pandemic is putting considerable strain on all business none more so than the passenger services sector. When considering solutions that can aid operators and ensure the sustainability of private bus operators into the future one must start by looking at the legislation that currently underpins compliant operations. We need to assess what can be done to drive flexibility into the system to allow a more dynamic approach that facilities resurgent operations. One such solution is the revision of Statutory Instrument 191/1963 Road Traffic (Public Service Vehicles) Regulations 1963, specifically the issue in relation to PSV inspections and clarification as to who can present vehicles for inspection. Maintenance providers / dealerships as owners of vehicles should be able to have vehicles PSV inspected. This would then allow them to supply vehicles to their customers for short term loan (replacing vehicles in for service) to be added temporarily to an operator licence. Vehicles can be provided to operators currently, but it takes up to six weeks to get a PSV inspection carried out. This is not efficient and is a barrier to trade for operators. In the current circumstances the FTA Ireland has written to the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Transport for clarification on this issue.