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Ticket sales halt on Helsinki area buses – but "public transport is not free"

In light of the coronavirus outbreak, HSL is urging people to avoid unnecessary travel, especially during rush hour.

Busseja Nobinan Roihupellon varikolla.
Nobina buses parked at the Roihupelto depot in eastern Helsinki (file photo). Image: Petteri Sopanen / Yle

Helsinki Regional Transport (HSL) is stepping up efforts to combat the spread of the new coronavirus.

The mass transit authority has imposed some new restrictions in response to demands from bus drivers concerned that they were not being sufficiently protected from the virus. They had asked that passengers be prevented from using buses’ front doors or buying tickets from drivers.

HSL agreed to the latter request, so tickets will not be sold on buses for an indefinite period of time. They are still available at all regular outlets and electronically.

This brings the capital region’s buses in line with its trams, Metro and commuter trains and ferries, which do not offer onboard ticket sales. Instead they must be bought at stations, kiosks or via the HSL mobile app.

The aim is to avoid unnecessary handling of cash and contacts between drivers and passengers.

“This does not however mean that public transport is becoming free of charge; we still require everyone to have a ticket. Just as with rail traffic, passengers buy their tickets elsewhere,” HSL’s Director of Public Transport Planning Tero Anttila said on Friday.

Bus drivers also asked that passengers only be permitted to enter and leave busses via their middle and rear doors.

HSL did not directly agree to this, but Anttila says HSL has instructed transport contractors to primarily use buses equipped with protective cabs for drivers. In these models, the driver is shielded by plexiglass that extends from floor to ceiling.

“At this stage, we don’t see the need to stop using the front doors. In our view, in situations in which passengers enter through the front door and don’t interact with the driver, this kind of plexiglass provides sufficient protection for the drivers,” he said.

Anttila estimates that some 90 percent of buses used on HSL have protective booths.

Stepped-up cleaning on buses

The transport authority says that vehicles and stations are now being subjected to more intensive cleaning. This is particularly in regard to surfaces that are liable to being touched such as railings and poles.

HSL is also urging people to avoid unnecessary travel, especially during rush hour.

Anttila says that HSL is prepared to shift to summer timetables earlier than usual if many of its drivers become ill. At present, summer schedules are to take effect on 15 June.

“We’ll only face this kind of reduction in schedules in a situation where we don’t have enough drivers available. The summer timetables have already been finalised and sent to our contractors,” he added.

As of Friday, transport in the capital region was still operating normally.

VR: Train ridership down

Finland’s state railway firm VR said that passenger numbers on Friday were well down on normal numbers for both local and long-distance services.

“This is probably due to the coronavirus news and people favouring remote working,” said VR communications director Tatu Tuominen. “It’s also the start of the weekend, but of course the general situation also affects this.”

VR did not have precise figures on Friday’s situation, but according to Tuominen trains are quieter than normal across the country.

VR has not yet cancelled any services, but has not decided on any possible changes in the coming weeks.

“Next week will provide an indication of how sustained the reduction in passengers is,” said Tuominen. Trains are cleaned every day and staff have face masks available as well as gloves to protect them from coronavirus.”

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