EghtesadOnline: Public means of transportation is a hotbed of Covid-19 transmission, especially in major cities like Tehran, and immediate action must be taken before it gets too late, the head of Tehran City Council says.
During a Sunday meeting with TCC members, Mohsen Hashemi said Covid-19 infection and mortality rates have reached a new worrisome high, Fars News reported.
“Iran logged a record high of 9,450 new infections on Saturday,” he said, emphasizing that rides on crowded buses and subway trains have had an undeniable destructive role in the spread of the virus.
Noting that social distancing is practically impossible in public vehicles, the TCC chief said, “Developing the transport system and adding new buses and trains increase the prospect of controlling the pandemic, especially in Tehran.”
Hashemi emphasized that the government has not invested in the expansion of public transportation for over a decade.
“This should be compensated in order to gradually remove the troublesome deficiencies,” he said.
On Saturday, the National Coronavirus Taskforce issued a night curfew on nonessential businesses in areas hit hardest by the virus.
Based on the plan, all provincial capitals, including Tehran, and densely-populated cities will be subject to a curfew from 6 p.m. until the next day starting Nov. 10.
Alireza Raeisi, the taskforce’s spokesman, said, “Only essential businesses can continue activities after 6 p.m. The rest will close until the next day.”
Essential places of business, he added, include health centers, pharmacies, search and rescue centers, fire stations, grocery stores and chain stores.
The government is currently enforcing lockdown disciplines in 25 provincial capitals and 89 high-risk counties to halt the spread of the deadly virus.
Besides the measure, TCC has been trying to convince the taskforce to minimize the infection rate in Tehran by maximizing the closures, so far to no avail.
Hashemi said the council has unanimously agreed that a two-week lockdown in Tehran would help minimize commutations and hopefully the virus transmission rate.
“However, the taskforce seems unwilling to even review the suggestion,” he lamented.
“Covid-19 has infected 9,236 more people on Sunday, taking the national count to 682,486,” the spokeswoman for the Health Ministry, Sima Sadat Lari, told the media.
She added that with the 459 deaths recorded during the past 24 hours, Iran’s total number of deaths reached 38,291.
Bankruptcy and Loans
Tehran’s public transportation system, which was already pressured by economic constraints caused by US sanctions, is nearing total bankruptcy with the spread of the coronavirus.
According to Mohammad Alikhani, the head of TCC’s Transportation Commission, the spread of the novel coronavirus has lent another blow to the sector, shrinking the number of public vehicle passengers and inflicting a loss of 5 trillion rials ($18.86 million) on the two companies.
"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.
“Cab and bus fleets operate with a lot of empty seats, as only 40% of their capacity are utilized. This is while most vehicles on the road are being used for purposes like shopping.”
“Over 60% of buses working in Tehran are privately-owned and they will stop working if their operations have no economic justification.”
Speaking to reporters, Mahmoud Tarfa, the head of Tehran Bus Company, said challenges facing public transportation are not a new story.
“Tehran’s buses were already insufficient and dilapidated, and unable to provide a decent transport service to citizens. More than half of Tehran’s buses are over 12 years old and every day more than 300 buses break down due to technical flaws,” he said.
Tarfa noted that the outbreak of the lethal coronavirus has added to the problems, as the bus fleet’s daily travels have reduced from 1.8 million to less than 700,000.
The story is the same for the taxi fleet. However, the government has tried to prevent the sector from a total crash by allocating 14 trillion rials ($52.83 million) in loans to 234,000 cab drivers.
According to Alaedin Azvaji, a deputy at the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare, a total of 345,000 cabbies have so far applied for the loan and the remaining applications will soon be reviewed.
However, the government is yet to devise a comprehensive financial aid scheme for bus drivers and subway expansion.