EghtesadOnline: The resumption of traffic schemes in Tehran as of last week has reduced traffic congestion in the city’s thoroughfares, but it is increasing passenger density in subway trains, heightening concerns about the spread of Covid-19.
Tehran Police Chief Hossein Rahimi expressed disquiet over the risk of the disease proliferating in the crowded trains and cautioned that social distancing is very difficult while using public means of transportation, ISNA reported.
“The police force is planning to collaborate with Tehran Metro Company to help passengers and metro staff adhere to hygiene guidelines,” he said.
Wearing facemask, which is highly recommended for protection against the virus, has become mandatory for subway passengers.
Rahimi said police officers will start checking passengers in stations to assure the rule is not violated.
He emphasized that the strict measure is for the sake of the society’s health and said maximum care should be taken because the virus is still spreading and the situation has not normalized.
Earlier this week, Tehran Metro CEO Farnoush Nobakht warned people against undertaking outdoor activities, while urging subway commuters to use the facility at less crowded hours as far as possible.
Noting that 7-8 a.m. and 1-2 p.m. are the metro rush hours, Nobakht said the metro company has taken measures to handle the crowd of passengers while focusing on hygienic criteria.
He added that the train headway has shrunk in all lines by 0.5 to 1 minute to avoid crowds in trains and on the lane.
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.
Officials have also marked subway seats with special signs to help passengers maintain safe distance. However, the signs are only useful when passengers do not exceed 40% of the wagon’s capacity.
According to the Health Ministry, public transportation is more polluted compared to universities and schools, so extra care should be taken by citizens using them.
Urban managers say the ventilation system of subway trains is concentrated, meaning that the air in wagons is constantly circulating and combining with the outside air.
This means one infected person in a train car can most possibly pollute the air in all cars. Since this is also the case in buses, there is a strong possibility of the second wave of coronavirus pandemic starting in the city, if nothing is done to prevent transmission.
In an effort to provide a workable solution for shortcomings, Mohsen Hashemi, chairman of Tehran City Council, had said earlier that more vehicles should be added to the public transportation fleet. Nevertheless, social distancing is almost impossible in a crowded city like Tehran.
Hashemi suggested that boosting the production of vehicles can help increase the number of buses and taxis active in the transportation system.
Noting that the budget allocated for the purchase of buses and taxis has never been adequate in the past several years, Hashemi said the annoying shortage of vehicles is tangible in the city and called on the government and banks to help resolve the issue.
In late February, the government intended to use the National Development Fund of Iran to help Tehran Municipality buy 630 subway cars and 3,000 new buses.
The announcement was made in a meeting between Es’haq Jahangiri, first vice president, and Hashemi, where they discussed ways of expanding the capital’s public transportation network.
Mohammad Alikhani, the head of TCC's Transportation Commission, later told reporters that the government will allocate the budget as soon as experts complete their estimation and select the supplier companies.
This is while in view of economic hardships facing Iran due to the reimposition of US sanctions, the renovation of transportation fleet faces a big hurdle and a long-term process if possible at all.
The prices of new buses and minibuses have registered a threefold leap, just like any other commodity.
After US President Donald Trump unilaterally reneged on Iran’s nuclear accord and reimposed sanctions against Tehran in summer 2018, the Iranian rial lost almost 70% of its value over the past year.
On Saturday, the US dollar was traded at 180,000 rials in Tehran while it hardly fetched 42,000 rials in March 2018.
Following the reimposition of sanctions, many foreign suppliers of vehicles and parts suspended collaboration with Iranian firms. The country cannot afford to import new buses in large numbers and local manufacturers do not have an adequate stockpile of parts to boost production.
These factors have derailed transportation renovation schemes. However, with the help of the government and automakers, urban planners are making efforts to implement these schemes. Only time will show whether these efforts will yield the desired results.
Tehran’s Public Transportation Status
According to Tehran Municipality, the number of buses operating in Tehran hardly reaches 6,000 which, according to experts, is half the number required for offering acceptable transportation services.
Experts say the average age of the fleet is over 11 years, such that 50% of the buses plying the streets of Tehran are dilapidated and fit for the scrapyard.
Besides, 1,000 subway cars are currently operating in the capital's urban subway system, 30% of which need to be upgraded.
The capital's subway stretches over 220 kilometers and comprises seven lines (1 to 7) with nearly 120 stations. Lines 6 and 7 are yet to become fully operational.
On a normal day, over four million people use the subway for commute. TM expects the number to surge by 25% after subway lines 6 and 7 are up and running.