How Montreal's public transit agencies are preparing for COVID-19

With COVID-19 spreading around the world, Montreal’s public transit authorities say they are keeping a close eye on the situation and even developing new policies to help reduce risk of contaminating passengers.

Be it disinfecting turnstiles to developing pandemic policies, health officials say handwashing is best

According to STM spokesperson Philippe Déry, Montreal metro cars will be cleaned from top to bottom at least every seven days. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

With COVID-19 spreading around the world, Montreal's public transit authorities say they are keeping a close eye on the situation and even developing new policies to help reduce risk to passengers.

But disinfecting high-traffic, public surfaces like handrails and ticket dispensers on a regular basis isn't going to stop the coronavirus in its tracks as it can survive a few days on a dry surface and about six on a wet surface, according to Dr. Yves Jalbert, deputy director of public health protection for Quebec.

"Anybody can go into the subway and touch things. Even if you washed it a half hour ago, it's not effective anymore," said Jalbert Wednesday as the province updated the public on Quebec's effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"That's why we insist on handwashing."

A second person has tested positive for the virus in Quebec, the government announced Thursday. But the risk of infection remains low in the province, according to Health Minister Danielle McCann.

Regardless, public transit authorities in the Montreal region are getting ready for COVID-19.

STM scrubs visible surfaces

Montreal's public transportation service, the STM, is increasing the frequency that it cleans its metro cars.

The STM usually washes the cars' floors every few days, but a new train-cleaning program is gradually being introduced to ensure the interiors, including the grab bars, are fully washed within seven days. 

But buses are a different story.

STM spokesperson Philippe Déry said buses will continue to get a complete interior clean every 42 days as that is the STM's usual procedure.

He said transit officials are in close contact with public health authorities, but there are still no specific guidelines for cleaning frequency or methods.

As far as the rest of the network, the STM says all visible surfaces, like ticket dispensers, turnstiles and handrails, are being cleaned on a weekly basis with soaps and disinfectants — including a type that some hospitals use.

Montreal's buses are cleaned every 42 days. That is not going to change for now, the STM says. (Navneet Pall/CBC)

The STM uses different cleaning methods and products depending on the target surfaces. Some products keep surfaces disinfected for up to 24 hours, the STM says in a statement.

There are specific cleaning protocols and disinfectants used when messes like vomit need to be cleaned up, the statement says.

Exo develops intervention plan

Exo, the transit authority serving the greater Montreal region, says it already ensures its train cars are clean every day.

The floors, carpets, headrests and vents are cleaned weekly, Exo says. Doors and seats are cleaned monthly.

If COVID-19 is declared a pandemic, an intervention plan has been developed by Exo's administration to help minimize risk for everyone. 

Exo says it already keeps its trains clean and will maintain its current cleaning policy. (Charles Contant/CBC)

For now, Exo says health authorities are encouraging people to practice usual hygiene measures and that is what the transit authority favours for its clients and staff.

"Our teams are closely monitoring the situation's development and are ready to follow any instructions or to put in place any measure deemed appropriate by public health authorities," Exo said in a statement Wednesday.

Taxi company keeps drivers informed

Champlain Taxi president George Boussios said his drivers are all independent and own their own vehicles. 

Because of that, the company can't just recall the fleet and disinfect the cars, he said.

He said Champlain Taxi has reminded drivers to clean the cars as often as they can throughout the day.

"Whether it's during the day or when they get home at night, to basically wipe down the door handles and the seats if they're leather and to basically keep their cars clean," he said. 

Taxis don't get crowds like the metro system or buses, but the company has made sure to remind drivers about COVID-19 and how easily it spreads, he said.

Uber and taxi drivers are encouraged to keep their vehicles clean. (Reuters)

Uber restricts employee travel

In a statement Wednesday, Uber says the company continues to "be concerned by the ongoing spread of coronavirus."

Guided by the advice of a "consulting public health expert," Uber says it has formed a team that will work to respond as needed in each area the company operates. 

"We remain in close contact with local public health organizations and will continue to follow their recommendations," the statement says.

"We encourage both drivers and riders to follow the guidance of local authorities to help prevent the spread of the virus and we will continue to provide additional market-specific guidance as needed."

Employees are not allowed to travel to COVID-19 hotspots like northern Italy, Iran, South Korea and China, Uber says.

Drivers are asked to wash their hands frequently, keep their cars clean and stay home if they feel sick. Uber says, as far as the company knows, COVID-19 has not been spread between an Uber rider or driver. 

With files from CBC's Chloe Ranaldi


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