How Belgium’s shutdown is impacting public transport
Wednesday, 18 March 2020
The “far-reaching measures” the federal government implemented from noon on Wednesday in Belgium to contain the further spread of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) are having a great impact on public transport.
All public transport is allowed to continue running, but only if social distancing, which means keeping a distance of 1.5 metres between people, can be guaranteed. The National Crisis Centre reaffirmed the measure, and added that public transport “should only be used to get to work.”
“Train traffic is guaranteed at all times, especially for the people who still have to go to work, and rely on the train to get there,” an SNCB spokesperson told The Brussels Times, adding that the required distance between passengers can be kept, as the number of passengers is so low.
Trains are being cleaned every day with added attention to areas often touched by passengers such as tablets and door handles.
Train stations are also being cleaned on a frequent basis, also focussing on frequently touched surfaces like the sides of escalators. Trains can only depart if enough water and soap are present on board, staff is asked to stay far away from passengers, and only electronic payments are allowed.
“We are in very close contact with the government, but we are not taking additional measures to the one we took a few days ago, to cancel about 100 rush hour trains to and from Brussels, at the moment,” he said.
Brussels public transport company STIB will continue to operate, but tickets can no longer be purchased on board, and payments in the stations will no longer be possible with cash money.
The company has also suspended ticket checks, to limit contact between its personnel and travellers as much as possible, and no longer requires people to board their buses through the front doors.
“We are being told that we are essential to the further continuation of the sort-of public life at the moment, so all lines will continue to be served, but at 66% of the normal capacity,” An Van hamme, a spokesperson for STIB, told The Brussels Times. “And seeing as how the number of passengers has dropped spectacularly, social distancing can be guaranteed in the vehicles,” she added.
Earlier, Flemish bus company De Lijn announced that it would frequently air out its buses and trams, for example by opening roof windows. Drivers will also spontaneously open the back door of the buses, so travellers do not have to press any buttons.
The company will also restrict its service, and reduce its bus offer by 14%, and its tram offer by 10% from Wednesday 18 March. However, the company will ensure that the lines serving hospitals will still be frequently operated.
“To guarantee the necessary distance, we are limiting access to buses and trams to 33% of the maximum possible number of passengers, from lunchtime on Wednesday,” De Lijn told the Belga press agency, also stressing the importance of not sitting or standing in close proximity to each other in the vehicles.
The company is also cancelling all its “Dial-a-buses” (buses that run only on request). “They are too small to guarantee sufficient distance between passengers. All reservations will be cancelled and no new ones can be made. All customers who have made a reservation for one of the coming weeks will be contacted personally,” De Lijn added.
Walloon bus company TEC is also no longer selling tickets on board, though the e-shop, SELF vending machines, ESPACES TEC and POINTS TEC are still available for ticket purchasing. The bus company is also selling MOBIB cards via its e-shop. These measures are in place until 18 April.
The company is also asking its passengers to adhere to the measures taken by the federal government, and keep their distance.