The emergence of the second wave of Covid-19 in the community in mid-August has prompted the government to make the use of face-masks compulsory in public transport along with strict maintaining of social distances. 

One of the most vulnerable spaces that can spread Covid from one place to a distant location is through public transport if proper precautions are not taken by travellers. 

To prevent or reduce the spread of the virus, masks were made compulsory by the Ministry of Health on public transports and were enforced from Monday, August 31. 

Thus, drivers of public transport, be it a taxi, buses, or train conductors who are the first point of contact with the passengers were tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that passengers were adhering to compulsory masks restrictions. 

So how does it impact the bus drivers – who are at the frontline of managing the spread of Covid-19 through our public transport buses? What kinds of challenges are they facing while policing passengers to wear facemasks, if any, at all?

The Indian Weekender spoke to few Kiwi-Indian bus drivers in Auckland of the new challenges of policing the passengers and ensuring they always wear facemasks while in their respective buses. 

Avtar Singh – Driving in different Alert levels is an altogether different experience 

Avtar Singh has been a bus driver for five years now and has driven on almost every route connecting in Auckland and North Shore from one corner to another.

Avtar said that driving in Alert Levels 4, 3 and currently 2.5 is much different from what he had seen all these years. Since seating restrictions and compulsory masks were in place- he felt much more safe driving passengers from one destination to another. 

“We have 15 passengers’ restriction in the bus, and I feel that is much safer for a driver transporting hundreds of travellers from one point to another on a daily basis,” Avtar adds. 

Avtar further added that he wears his mask whenever working, makes sure there is a maximum of 15 passengers on board at a time, and they tag the hop card when boarding and all are wearing masks, but with hundreds of passengers from different age groups- not all are compliant to the rules and sometimes he has to make a few exceptions.

“All the passengers come through the rear door only, we had marked seats for passengers to sit so distancing is maintained, and there is a cordon just ahead of the wheelchair seating space and make sure no passenger comes beyond the cordon close to the driver.

“When I am driving towards the South Auckland route, sometimes, I get passengers who come in groups and do not wear masks- I request them a couple of times, but it’s not easy dealing with them or making them compliant,” Avtar Singh added.

Satwant Singh – almost started the job when Auckland went into lockdown

Five months into the job, Satwant Singh says he gets both kinds of passengers- some are compliant, adhere to the seating restrictions and wear masks etc. and sometimes there are few passengers who just climb the bus, don’t pay/tag their hop cards and sit it groups not wearing masks. 

He says he has had to deny passengers at times if the max capacity of the bus is attained or they are not wearing masks- but most of the times he has to accommodate them. 

“We have to make sure there are 15 maximum passengers, but sometimes, it’s raining, and some people come in pairs, or groups and you have to accommodate them- asking them to sit near the wheelchair space of the bus, just ahead of the cordon,” Satwant Singh said. 

Komalpreet Singh – This is new normal, and we are prepared for it

Komalpreet Singh who usually drives between Glen Innes, Sylvia Park and Onehunga has spent three months into the job and is happy with the work and has made sure passengers are compliant with social distancing rules and masks.

“We often get passengers who do not carry cash, or their hop card is not working, and in such cases, we have an option in our system to issue a free ticket for them so that we have a track of how many free or complimentary tickets we have issued in a run,” Komalpreet said.