Protocols for COVID– 19 Mitigation for Public Transport Operators (taxis and rental services)
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. Symptoms often include cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person:
- Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet)
- Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.
Recent studies indicate that the virus can be spread by people who are not showing symptoms. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.
The health of our citizens, including transport workers and passengers, remains the key priority. Particular consideration should be given to vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, in full respect of their privacy. The easing of travel and operational restrictions should therefore be gradual to protect public health and ensure that transport services can re-adjust to increase passenger volumes.
The restoration of public transport services will be fully dependent on the phased approach to relax containment measures and should remain fully aligned and consistent with public health policies and guidelines.
The Public Service vehicle fleet in the Turks and Caicos Islands consist three main classes of services mainly Taxis, Private Transfer and Community Cabs. A fourth class which is not as prevalent as the first three, is the Private charter vehicles which are licensed to carry 20 or more passengers and is used mainly for island tours and carrying large groups.
Taxi and Private Transfer services are the main forms of transportation used by guest coming to our Islands. Community Cabs are used to a lesser extent. Taxis carry a maximum of 10 passengers, Private Transfer vehicles are licensed to carry a maximum of 10 passengers, although this is usually not the case as guest tend to want exclusivity when traveling by Private Transfer vehicles and Community Cabs may carry a maximum of four passengers at any one time.
A quick glance at Public Transport Vehicle services in some Caribbean territories such as Jamaica, Trinidad and the Bahamas show a number of types of transport services including Taxis, Maxi and Mini Buses, Private Transport Services and what is referred to in Trinidad as Maxi Taxis, a service that can be compared to our Community Cab Services.
The threat of the spread of Coronavirus has led to stringent measures being implemented to curtail the spread through the Public Transport services including limiting the number of passengers carried in each class and strict cleaning and deep cleaning protocols including PPEs required to be worn by passengers and drivers. In Jamaica for instance operators of Public Transport vehicles are required to have hand sanitizer available in their vehicles at all times. Drivers are also privy to an agent for use in their vehicles known as electrostatic spray, widely used and is known to be effective in killing off the virus. All passengers are required to wear face mask for the entirety of the journey including the driver who must use gloves when handling passenger luggage, changing gloves frequently to avoid contamination of door handles and passengers’ luggage in between pickup and drop-offs. Deep cleaning is required a minimum of twice per week with frequent cleaning by operators using chlorinated wipes to clean door handles and seats in vehicles. Lysol is also encouraged to spray inside vehicles regularly.
Having Had the benefit of viewing the protocols in place in other territories and in preparation for the reopening of the Tourism Market in the Turks and Caicos, the following are recommendations for the Public Service Vehicles operating in the Islands to maintain Social distancing and avoid the transfer of the virus between individuals and operators. These recommendations are in addition to any protocols already put in place by the Public Health Authorities.
Scope: These protocols provide guidance to vehicle operators to help slow person-to-person transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). This guidance may be updated as new information becomes available since the situation is rapidly and constantly changing.
General precautions for vehicle operators:
Public transport systems have to be considered a high-risk environment due to: High number of people in a confined space with limited ventilation; no access control to identify potentially sick persons.
Vehicle operators should take the following precautions to keep themselves and their passengers protected:
- Monitor your health more closely than usual for COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath.
- Stay home if you are sick.
- Practice healthy personal hygiene.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve. Do not use your hands. Immediately throw out tissues and wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.
- Do not touch your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Have tissues and hand sanitizer available in your vehicle for your passengers.
- Do not shake hands. Instead, wave or nod your head.
- If you do physically interact with a customer, remember to wash hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer after every transaction, especially after cash exchange.
Guidance by type of public service vehicle
- Taxis allowed to carry a maximum of five (5) passengers on any one journey where the vehicles are licensed to carry ten passengers
- No passengers are allowed to travel in the Front passenger seat of the vehicle
- All passengers including drivers must wear a face Mask/face covering for the entirety of the Journey
- Drivers are required to wear latex gloves when handling luggage and must change gloves in between trips
- Hand Sanitizer should be available in each vehicle for use by passengers and drivers
- Disinfectant wipes for door handle cleaning and seat wiping should be carried by all drivers.
Vehicles to be deep cleaned in accordance with public health protocols at minimum once per week.
- Lysol and Electrostatic spray in all vehicles with frequent spraying inside of the vehicle
Private Transfer Vehicles:
- To carry a maximum of three (3) passengers on any one journey
- All other protocols from 2 to 7 above to apply to Private transfer vehicles
- To carry a maximum of two passengers on any one journey
- All other Protocols from 2 to 7 above apply to Community Cabs
Private Charter Vehicles:
- To carry a maximum of 12 passengers on any one journey
- All other protocols from 2 to 7 above apply to Private Transfer vehicles
Clean and disinfect your vehicle routinely.
When cleaning and disinfecting:
- Pay special attention to surfaces and objects that are touched often by passengers, such as door handles, window buttons, locks, payment machines, arm rests, seat cushions, buckles and seatbelts. Also wipe down surfaces that you frequently touch, such as the steering wheel, radio buttons, turn indicators and cup holders.
- Use regular disinfectant products (for example, Clorox/bleach, peroxide or alcohol-based multi- purpose products) that are appropriate for the surface.
- Use disinfectant products in accordance with their instructions.
- Use sanitizing wipes or disinfection solution (bleach solution in spray bottle) to wipe high touch areas (one teaspoon bleach to one-quart water).
- Keep the vehicle doors open while cleaning and disinfecting.
- Wear disposable gloves when cleaning and only use them once. Dispose of gloves in the trash after use and wash hands immediately with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Floors, seats and windows should be cleaned and disinfected daily.
- Limit the use of air conditioning when transporting passengers as droplets with the virus will linger in closed spaces. Or, vehicle air-conditioning should be set to fresh air.
- In the event of unsanitary conditions existing in a vehicle, that vehicle must be removed from service and deep cleaned and disinfected before it is returned to service.
- If an area has been heavily contaminated, such as with visible bodily fluids, from a person with coronavirus (COVID-19), consider using protection for the eyes, mouth and nose, as well as wearing gloves and an apron.
- Wait until all surfaces have dried before giving a ride to a passenger.
Maintain social (physical) distancing.
- Create more personal space. Keep at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and others, whenever possible.
- Ask passengers to sit in the back to create physical distance. If the vehicle has a partition, close the partition before picking up passengers. If the vehicle does not have a partition, consider putting up a clear plastic barrier between the front and back of the vehicle (note: barrier should not affect rear view mirror visibility). For vehicles licensed by the Road Safety Department, drivers should follow their road safety guidance on partition installation.
- Only transport passengers who are in the same party. Group rides (also known as “shared” or “pooled” rides) should not be permitted.
- Essential workers are required to wear a face covering at work if they have direct contact with customers or others.
- Before entering the vehicle, dispense hand sanitizer to passengers.
- Staff must wear a face covering when transporting passengers, or when otherwise within 6 feet of customers or others. A face covering is any well-secured paper or cloth (like a bandana or scarf) that covers your mouth and nose. Employers must provide face coverings to employees at employers’ expense.
- Each vehicle should display one of the Ministry of Health COVID-19 posters with the hotline number visible to all passengers.
- Rear door boarding may temporarily replace the front door access of buses, in order to protect drivers that have no separate cabins.
Special considerations for drivers above the age of 65 years or with pre-existing medical conditions
The existing protocols recommend that persons 65 and older to remain isolated and away from members of the public as much as possible. It further recommended that where possible persons in this age group work from home. Drivers with compromised immune systems are advised to seriously consider the risk to self when exposing themselves to the work environment, particularly not being clothe in Personal Protective Equipment. Public Service Vehicle Operators are advised to follow the Protocols outlined by the Public Health Department for persons over 65 years of age. As an added protective measure, drivers should consider installing plexi glass to create a barrier between themselves and passengers, particularly drivers over the age of 65 years.
For additional information and guidance, please call the Ministry of Health hotline on 268-4319.