EghtesadOnline: The new round of traffic rule waiver in the capital city of Tehran has failed to curb the jostling crowd in the subway, contrary to expectations, Tehran Metro’s CEO said.
According to Farnoush Nobakht, Iran's National Coronavirus Taskforce decided to suspend Tehran’s traffic restrictions on August 1 for two weeks due to the non-stop rise in coronavirus infection rate, IRNA reported.
Nobakht noted that instead of discouraging the use of public transportation, the number of passengers flocking to the subway has increased.
During the traffic rule waiver, the coronavirus taskforce and Tehran Municipality are expected to study its effects on people’s surge toward public transportation, and air quality.
This is while the move has already proved to be ineffective. After the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, traffic schemes in Tehran were halted for the first time from late March to June 6 to cut the infection chain.
The waiver plus Norouz (Iranian New Year) holidays (March 20-April 3) temporarily alleviated the congestion in subway trains and the number of passengers fell to around 300,000 per day.
However, with the gradual resumption of businesses after the holidays, the crowd surged in the subway although the traffic schemes remained suspended.
The deteriorating conditions due to the Covid-19 spread compelled the coronavirus taskforce to urge the authorities to implement the second round of restrictive measures on high-risk businesses and suspend traffic restrictions in mid-July.
Alireza Zali, the head of the taskforce, suggested that remote work permits should be considered for office employees.
"Online shopping should be promoted to minimize unnecessary travels in the city. These actions can also curb the increased use of public transportation services," he said.
Zali said 44% of people in the capital city use public transportation or private cars to commute to their workplaces, while 25% of citizens leave home every day for necessary and unnecessary shopping.
Mohammad Alikhani, the head of Tehran City Council’s Transportation Commission, told reporters that the cancellation of traffic schemes is not beneficial for the public.
He said that with no traffic limitations in the central part of the city, people are encouraged to commute via private vehicles and increase unnecessary travels.
“Since the second waiver, even minor roads and streets in the city center have been clogged. This is not in line with social distancing criteria that has proved to be the most effective measure to ward off the disease,” he said.
“The more useful measure would be to upgrade the public transportation fleet through the addition of vehicles and subway trains. But unfortunately, the multi-dimensional and complex issue of coronavirus has been narrowed down to a mere traffic scheme waiver,” Alikhani said, hoping that the traffic rules could be resumed soon.
Recently, during a live program on the IRIB Channel 3, Tehran Mayor Pirouz Hanachi urged the general public to use bikes for short trips around the city.
"Bikes are suitable for 5- to 7-kilometer trips, plus they are emission-free and good for health," he said.
Besides, Tehran Metro officials have repeatedly warned people against undertaking outdoor activities while urging commuters to use the subway in less crowded hours (7-8 a.m. and 1-2 p.m.) as far as possible.
Nobakht urged the general public to use facemasks and stick to health protocols when using the subway.
Since President Hassan Rouhani announced that wearing facemasks is obligatory in covered space as of July 5, the metro police are strictly monitoring the passengers, notifying those ignoring the rule.
Saeed Ataollahi, Tehran Metro police chief, said, "The police stop passengers not wearing facemasks from passing through the entry gates and politely ask them to purchase one from the stall in the metro lobby."
For passengers with financial problems, facemasks will be offered for free, he added.
The police chief noted that before the mandatory rule was announced, unfortunately, some subway commuters overlooked the importance of wearing masks.
"At present, over 90% of passengers adhere to the face rule. This can exert a controlling effect on the Covid-19 transmission rate, as simply wearing a mask even in a partially crowded train wagon can considerably reduce the risk of infection," he said.
Ataollahi emphasized that strict measures are for the public good and safety.
“Maximum care should be taken because the virus is still spreading and things could get worse before they get better,” he added.
Health experts have recurrently warned that the use of public transport can raise the risk of infection.
Senior officials issue daily warnings that the virus is spreading and the situation has worsened. However, the resumption of social activities is making it very difficult to reduce mortalities and the number of hospitalizations has been rising rapidly.
According to the Health Ministry, public vehicles are more polluted compared to universities and schools, so extra care should be taken by commuters.
Urban managers say the ventilation system in subway trains is concentrated and the air inside cars is constantly circulating and combining with the air outside.
This means one sick person on a train can pollute the air in all cars. The same is true in public buses.
By August 8, the virus has infected 322,567 people in the country, of whom 18,132 have died. Based on the Health Ministry's regular reports, 279,724 patients have recovered.