OC Transpo and STO forgoing extra cleaning for COVID-19

While transit services in Toronto and Montreal are taking extra cleaning measures around the coronavirus, those in Ottawa-Gatineau say their current system is enough.

Expert warns cleaning needs to be done properly or it could spread virus

The TTC in Toronto is taking extra measures to clean vehicles. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

While transit services in Toronto and Montreal are taking extra cleaning measures around the coronavirus outbreak, Ottawa's OC Transpo and the STO in Gatineau, Que., are not.

The TTC and Metrolinx in the Toronto area first stepped up cleaning measures in January, now wiping down areas of high contact daily with heavy-duty products.

The TTC is spraying its buses overnight. 

In Montreal, the STM is gradually introducing a new train-cleaning program, where interiors will be fully washed every seven days and buses are being cleaned weekly with soaps and disinfectants. 

There have been confirmed cases of the respiratory illness in both cities, with none in Ottawa.

OC Transpo said Thursday it has been closely monitoring the situation and working with public health officials to assess what supplies and cleaning measures are needed. 

"OC Transpo conducts daily cleaning on its buses, utilizing disposable antibacterial towel/wipes and all-purpose spray cleaner for glass and surfaces," said its chief safety officer Jim Hopkins in an email.

"The daily cleaning includes front dash (i.e. fare boxes) and rear dash, sun visor, all handrails and stanchion posts and stairwell on double-decker [buses].

"Additionally, our buses undergo detailed interior cleaning every 180 days which include scrubbing, washing, rinsing and drying of the interior, including the glasses, upholstery and stairwell area for double-deckers."

Hopkins said OC Transpo's trains are cleaned daily and undergo deep cleaning every 21 service days on Line 1 and 92 days on Line 2. 

Those fare gates and ticket machines are also wiped down daily. 

Fare gates on the Confederation Line Sept. 16, 2019. (CBC)

The STO in Gatineau is also watching the situation closely, but not doing anything extra yet. 

A spokesperson confirmed that buses are washed once a week at each refueling, including the grab bars and the driver's station.

The buses undergo a complete interior cleaning every two months. 

Would it work? 

One virus expert is cautioning that extra cleaning must be done right. 

"There is a high probability of actually spreading the virus if not enough detergent is being used or if the rags are not being changed frequently enough," said Marc-André Langlois, Canada Research Chair in molecular virology and intrinsic immunity at the University of Ottawa. 

"What might happen is that these maintenance people will be actually spreading the contagious virus to larger surfaces."

Ottawa cleans the inside of its buses daily, while Gatineau does so once a week. (CBC)

Langlois said the virus can live on surfaces for several days if the conditions are correct — not too hot, too cold or too wet.

He said those doing the cleaning would have to have special protocol training to ensure they weren't spreading the virus.

Just wash your hands

More importantly is that people are well educated on how to protect themselves against the virus, he said.

"You see people with masks, the masks do absolutely nothing. If they're wearing rubber gloves or whatever, that does not protect them," he said.

"What protects you is to avoid any aspiration of droplets that may contain the virus. That is the key. The general recommendation is just don't touch your face, hand washing."

He said proper hand washing is the other key and suggests doing so especially after commuting. 


About the Author

Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.