It’s been nearly two months since public transport was allowed to operate again in Kuwait while adhering to strict health measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. While wearing facemasks and maintaining social distancing are still required to ride on public buses, the demand for public transport limits the options for social distancing onboard during peak times. But social distancing measures remain in place during slower periods.
Several passengers have complained that some bus drivers tend to ignore health guidelines during peak hours in favor of picking up as many passengers as possible. “I always ride bus number 66X from Salmiya to Farwaniya, and I have noticed the drivers don’t care at all if the buses are full. They still accept passengers and don’t care about social distancing,” said Maricel, a regular public transport user. She said during rush hours from 6 am to 8 am and from 6 pm to 8 pm, buses are filled to capacity.
“No social distancing and no police stopping them as well. The problem inside the bus is that some of the passengers are not wearing facemasks – yes they have a mask on their faces, but they don’t wear it properly; they put it on their chin allowing them to breathe feely and release the virus if they have it. I have observed this many times and that is why when in the bus, I never remove my facemask,” she said.
This reporter traveled by bus from Kuwait City to Salmiya and from Salmiya to Hawally during slower hours and noticed many buses were half empty and people were strictly observing social distancing. “Thank God my work starts at 2 pm, so I normally ride the bus from 1 pm onwards and back home at 9 pm, so I never encounter rush hours. So I am safe,” he said.
On Aug 18, 2020 – after a five-month absence due to coronavirus restrictions – public buses returned to the streets. But along with the return of buses was a 50-fils increase in minimum fare across the board. Public buses were told to strictly implement health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Seats in buses have stickers with a message to leave them empty to observe a two-meter distance between passengers.
Kuwait Public Transport Company (KPTC) has come up with a slogan ‘Together We Can Go Back to Public Transport Safely’ that is plastered at its stations and bus stops. Some stickers pasted at the main depot in Mirqab remind passengers on ways to be safe while using public transportation. The stickers also remind passengers that in case they are sick or have high fever, they must not use public transportation and stay at home instead. They also seek the cooperation of all passengers to not underestimate this pandemic.
Besides KPTC which is owned by the government, there are two more private bus operators in Kuwait – City Bus and Kuwait Gulf Link. In 2016, usage of public transport was 2 percent, a drop from 5 percent in 2006, while private car usage increased by 65 percent between 2006 and 2016. Private cars make up 80 percent of vehicles on the road, with around 1.6 million cars, according to statistics from the interior ministry.0