EghtesadOnline: Following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Iran in February 2020, Tehran’s public transportation system has incurred an additional monthly expense of over 1 trillion rials ($3.97 million) per month for observing the health protocols.
Mohammad Alikhani, the head of Tehran City Council’s Transportation Commission, said Covid-19 restrictions have taken a toll on the capital’s transportation, taking the sector to the brink of collapse, TCC’s public relations office reported.
“Since the US sanctions against Iran were reimposed in 2018, Tehran Metro and Tehran Bus Company have been loss making. However, the spread of the novel coronavirus dealt another blow to the sector, reducing the number of people using public transportation by 40%,” he added.
The official noted that negotiations are underway to increase public transportation fare by up to 35% in the next Iranian year (starting March 20).
“The actual price of a metro ticket is 198,000 rials [$0.8], two-thirds of which should be paid by the government and Tehran Municipality, and the rest by the passenger,” he noted.
Accordingly, the passenger should pay 59,400 rials ($0.23) for each metro ticket.
“In order to lift the pressure off passengers, the shares were renegotiated. Based on the new rules, the public will pay only 9% of the total ticket price,” he said.
The official said this is also the case with urban bus fleet fares.
Alikhani said a rise in fares might discourage the public and further curb the number of passengers.
“It is unfair to make the public shoulder the burden of officials’ mismanagement. However, with the inflation rate being over 50%, increasing the fares is inevitable,” he said.
Bus Fleet Struggling
Speaking to reporters, Mahmoud Tarfa, the head of Tehran Bus Company, said challenges facing public transportation are not new.
“Tehran’s buses are already inadequate and dilapidated, and unable to provide decent transport services to citizens. More than half of Tehran buses are over 12 years old and every day more than 300 buses break down due to technical problems,” he said.
Tarfa added that the outbreak of the coronavirus has added to the problems, as the bus fleet’s daily travels have reduced from 1.8 million to under 700,000.
“Bus drivers are not even recovering their expenses,” he said.
Pointing to the fact that the government has overlooked the sector for the past decade, Tarfa said, “We should wait and see if government officials will eventually give support to the public transport system by the end of the current year.”
Late May, Alikhani had said that with the spread of the viral disease, a majority of people have opted for private vehicles over public means of transportation for daily commutation.
"Normally, the public transport system handled over five million travels a day. The figure has shrunk to under 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, while most vehicles on the road are being used for purposes like shopping.”
Alikhani noted that social distancing is ignored in public places such as malls, emphasizing that the problem should be addressed.
To achieve this objective, the government keeps encouraging people to stay home and use private cars for commuting, only when necessary.
However, challenges have emerged ever since, including a huge loss of income for the public transportation system, including taxis, buses and the subway.
The loss of revenue should be added to the extra expenditure spent on disinfectants and protective items used in the fleet.
Talks of the idle capacity of public transportation have raised concerns over the high risk of contamination in public vehicles.
Yousef Hojjat, the head of Tehran Municipality’s Transportation and Traffic Organization, said a large number of people who do not own a private car inevitably take a bus or taxi, or use the subway, to get to work.
“Keeping a reasonable distance between passengers becomes almost impossible when the number of passengers cannot be controlled," he said.
“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.”
Similarly, Mohsen Hashemi, the chairman of TCC, underlined the warnings of Health Ministry and professionals over the risk of contamination among those using 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.
Adding 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,” he added.
Hashemi noted 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.
The novel coronavirus has so far taken the lives of 60,512 people out of a total of 1,673,470 infected people.
According to Iran’s Health Ministry, 1,428,008 patients have so far recovered from the disease.