As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport.
Continued operation of the public transport sector is important, and it has been designated among the essential services that have carried on during the Covid crisis. I would like to thank both public and commercial operators and their staff for their continued dedication to providing this vital service in such challenging times. A number of measures have been introduced across the system, guided by public health advice, to ensure the continued operation of services during the pandemic, including enhanced cleaning regimes and social distancing measures across the network.
Over the course of the COVID-19 crisis, my Department has been working closely with the National Transport Authority (NTA) to ensure public transport services continue and to plan for the provision of enhanced public transport services in line with the Government Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business. In this context, the NTA is engaging directly with both PSO and commercial transport operators.
With the commencement of Phase 3 of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business on 29 June 2020, changes to the existing public transport social distancing restrictions were agreed, allowing a move from 2 metres social distancing to utilising 50% of the passenger-carrying capacity of fleet. This will help to underpin public transport services during these unprecedented times, with a view to safeguarding public transport capacity. Alongside this change, it was also decided that the wearing of a face covering when using public transport would be made mandatory. The Regulations for the mandatory wearing of face coverings on public transport were introduced under Health legislation on 10 July and came into effect on Monday 13 July. Public health advice tells us that face coverings are an important safety measure, especially in interior spaces, but that they are not suitable for every individual, particularly those who cannot do so for health reasons or due to young age.
Further, there is continued strong messaging that public transport capacity remains restricted and therefore should only be used for essential travel, with only those who absolutely have to travel at peak times doing so and encouraging staggered retail and office opening hours. People are being encouraged to walk or cycle where practical, and organisations are encouraged to continue to facilitate working from home.
As part of new restrictions announced by Government on the 18th August, people have been asked to avoid public transport where possible. This advice along with other measures (such as continuing to work from home where possible) is aimed at suppressing the spread of Covid-19 in Ireland. The advice is also aimed at ensuring public transport is safeguarded for those who need it most, including frontline workers and students.
The new measures were introduced following recommendations made to Government by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).