EghtesadOnline: The outbreak of Covid-19 in Iran since mid-February has saddled Tehran Metro Company with a massive loss of 2 trillion rials ($11.2 million), the head of the company said.
Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Farnoush Nobakht added that in the past three months, the company has incurred a huge loss due to the adverse impact of the disease on public transportation, IRNA reported.
Three months ago, when the first coronavirus infections were reported in Iran, the government started encouraging people to observe social distancing, stay at home and use their private cars for essential chores. Consequently, the number of subway passengers fell by around 70%.
“This is while not only the subway system was not locked down, but it continued operations at full capacity and even the headway time was shrunk by 0.5 to 1 minute on all lines,” Nobakht said.
“Although the measure was taken to make the observation of social distancing more practical in trains, it has led to huge financial losses.”
Besides the lack of revenue from the sale of tickets, the system’s operational expenses such as utility bills and staff salary added to the extra cost of disinfectants used for daily sanitization of wagons have pressured the company.
Mohammad Alikhani, the head of Transportation Commission at Tehran City Council, had earlier said that the monthly loss of Tehran's public transportation system, including subway, bus and taxi fleet, reaches 1.2 trillion rials ($6.7 million).
"Normally, the public transport system handled over five million travels a day. The figure has shrunk to less than one million these days, hurting the livelihood of bus and taxi drivers," he said.
From a broader perspective, Mehdi Jamalinejad, the head of Iran’s Municipalities and Village Administrators, said municipalities around the country have taken a big loss of 10 trillion rials ($56.5 million), thanks to the negative effects of the virus.
Talks of using the idle capacity of public transportation have raised concerns over the high risk of contamination in public vehicles.
With the reopening of low-risk businesses in the city from April 11 and the lifting of inter-city traffic restrictions, the partial quarantine observed since late February is gradually ending.
Yousef Hojjat, the head of Tehran Municipality’s Transportation and Traffic Organization, said keeping a reasonable distance between passengers becomes almost impossible when the number of passengers keeps rising.
“The virus is still spreading and infecting people in the city and the situation has not normalized. The resumption of social activities can make it tough to handle mortalities related to the disease,” he added.
Mohsen Hashemi, the chairman of TCC, had said earlier that social distancing is almost impossible in a crowded city like Tehran, unless more buses, taxis and train cars are added to the public transportation fleet.
Hashemi underlined the warnings of Health Ministry and professionals over the risk of contamination in the use of public means of transportation.
“Public vehicles are more polluted compared to universities and schools. So extra care should be taken by citizens using them,” he said.
Referring to his concerns, Hashemi said the ventilation system of subway trains is concentrated, which means that the air in wagons is constantly circulating and combining with the air outside the train.
“This means one infected person in a train car can potentially pollute the air in all cars. There is a strong possibility of the second wave of coronavirus pandemic starting in the city, if nothing is done about the issue,” he added.
Many experts have cautioned that the observation of social distancing is very difficult while using public transportation services.
Nobakht said wearing facemasks is mandatory in trains, and passengers who ignore the rule will be notified.
The authorities are facilitating the distribution of subsidized facemasks at the entrance of subway stations to help implement the plan.
Pointing to the possibility of trains to skip certain stations to control the crowd inside wagons, Nobakht said this is not a practical solution for intersections but stations with few passengers might be skipped by some trains with previous notice.
“We are planning to add more trains to subway lines with the dangerously high number of passengers,” he added.
Officials have also marked subway seats with special signs to help passengers maintain a safe distance. However, the signs are only useful when passengers do not exceed 40% of the wagon’s capacity.
The measures are expected to curb the risk of using public means of transportation, considering the fact that the number of passengers using buses and subway is on an upward trajectory.
By June 8, the virus took the lives of 8,281 people out of a total of 171,789 infected people.
According to Iran’s Health Ministry, 134,349 patients have so far recovered from the disease.