The 23rd meeting of the UIC Covid-19 Task Force was attended remotely on 19 October 2021 by around 30 participants from across the globe.
Marc Guigon, Chair of the Task Force, welcomed the participants and gave an overview of the afternoon’s meeting, with a particular focus on defining the “new normal” for railways in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. The main topics of the day were the Covid-19 Health Pass Implementation and the impact of Covid-19 within Europe. The meeting opened on the subject of “Experiences with enforcement of the covid pass in public transport” with a presentation by Kirsten Verlaan from NS (Netherlands), followed by a presentation on the “Implementation of the health pass in long-distance rail transport in France” by Isabelle Delobel from SNCF (France), and a presentation from Theodoros Tolias, from TRAINOSE, on “TRAINOSE’s Covid pass checks in public transport: experiences with the enforcement in Greece”. Finally, Jacques Dirand, from CER, presented the results of the CER study: “’CER COVID Impact TRACKER’ Results of the September Wave”.
Marc Guigon, UIC Passenger Director, again discussed the “New Normal” and how UIC imagines the “Future Shape of Mobility” along with its members. The Digital Covid Certificate (DCC) was the main subject of discussion of this meeting.
Marc Guigon launched the meeting with a brief overview of Covid-19 figures around the globe. In Lithuania, less than 50% of the population is vaccinated so there will be a new lockdown.
The key themes of the presentations included:
- “Experiences with enforcement of the covid pass in public transport”
Kirsten VERLAAN, Senior Security Advisor, NS, The Netherlands
In the Netherlands, public transport was the first sector to make the usage of masks obligatory on 1 June 2020, long before it became mandatory in all indoor public spaces on 1 December 2020. When the number of cases went down and vaccination rates increased in Summer 2021, public transport, stations and platforms remained the only spaces where masks had to be worn.
The “new normal” started at the end of September with the end of masks in stations and on platforms. Since 25 September, the Covid pass allows people to access restaurants, bars, theatres and other events.
In September, when the Ministry of Transport asked public transport companies about the possibility of introducing a Covid pass in public transport (like in France and Italy), all public transport organisations refused in a joint statement. They argued that many people are dependent on public transport for their essential travels, so they didn’t want to hinder them. The Covid pass also had more limited usage in the Netherlands as the country is smaller than France or Italy, and international travel already required a Covid pass. Carrier also refused to enforce such drastic control measures.
It has been noted that regulations across Europe varied a lot across countries or even regions (negative PCR test, quarantine, digital Covid certificate…). Several methods of enforcement of the Covid pass were implemented:
- Fines (95€)
- Random checks in trains with multiple stops
- 100% entrance control for trains with closed boarding regimes
However, these measures are often challenged because of numerous exceptions to quarantine, the difficulty of keeping track of changing risk levels all over Europe, language barriers making paper Covid certificates unreliable, different rules applying to different modes of transportation for the same travel route, and border areas being areas of commute for many passengers who didn’t realise international travel rules applied to them.
The surety staff of carriers also encountered two issues. The first was that people didn’t get used to random checks while non-compliers didn’t get caught often. Secondly, they didn’t consider control of Covid passes part of their job.
- “Implementation of the health pass in long-distance rail transport in France”
Isabelle DELOBEL, Deputy Director of Health Risks and to the European security authorities, SNCF, France
In France, passengers have had to present their health pass since 9 August on long-distance trains. Several documents are accepted as proof: the proof of a completed vaccination programme, a negative PCR test in the last 48 hours, or a proof of contracting Covid-19 in the last six months.
The sanitary pass is enforced through random checks which can take place anywhere at any time. SNCF ensured a seamless implementation for customers: the checks are mainly done at the station through to the TousAntiCovid Verif application, a government digital tool allowing the carrier to scan the QR code of passengers. It automatically says if the document is valid or not. The fine for non-compliance is set at 135€. For travellers’ convenience, SNCF established partnerships with pharmacies in railway stations to prioritise testing of travellers, so they can leave on time with a valid PCR test.
The verification is taking place in good conditions. There is no flow problem, no impact on the traffic level, and people can link their health pass to their travelling ticket to avoid double check. Less than 1% of travellers refused to be controlled. Fraud is minimal, with fines possibly increasing in the future to further deter people.
The implementation of the health pass has been a success, and its necessity to travel boosted vaccination rates. In three months, the number of people vaccinated has been multiplied by two, with 85% of the French population now vaccinated.
- “TRAINOSE’s Covid pass checks in public transport: experiences with the enforcement in Greece”
Theodoros Tolias, TRAINOSE, Greece
With regard to the implementation of the Covid-19 health pass for rail travel in Greece, the law is revised and amended on a weekly basis. All rail passengers over the age of 12 are required to provide either a vaccination certificate, a recovery certificate or a negative laboratory test (PCR).
Since 13 September 2021, the Covid pass is mandatory in all public transport (land, sea, air), except in urban traffic (buses and metro) where adjustments have been made. Its implementation has been easy in ships and airplanes, where they were many controls before Covid-19, but is very new for railways. TRAINOSE played its part to make the pass successful: on the first day of implementation, they didn’t leave any room for negotiation for people who didn’t have the necessary documents. Within the company, everybody must be either fully vaccinated of tested twice a week.
Although initially there was some confusion, the public reacted and adapted quickly and responded well to being checked. Masks are obligatory and the seat capacity has been limited. Perhaps surprisingly, the public asked for this control in the first place, and revenues did not suffer. However, since ID must be checked with the certificate, more staff would be helpful to carry out the controls. Other limitations include the purchase of e-tickets, and police must be called for non-compliance on board.
Interestingly, TRAINOSE found a practical way to ensure respect of the 85% seat capacity in regional trains: passenger tickets are only valid for three hours (four possible trains). This gives passengers some leeway and reduces the risk of overcrowding.
In the discussion that followed the presentation, participants remarked very different responses across countries, with people wanting to get their lives back or making a political statement, and a varying willingness to follow public authorities’ orders.
- “CER COVID Impact TRACKER” Results of the September Wave
Jacques DIRAND, Head of Rail Freight Services, CER
From June 2020 to June 2021, the cumulated loss for rail (passenger and freight services combined) amounted to 42 billion euros. Passenger services lost 39 billion euros by the end of June 2021, with half of these revenues solely from November 2020 to April 2021. Freight services were comparatively less affected, with a constant loss of 10% of their revenues since January 2021. Their losses amounted to 2.6 billion euros lost by the end of June 2021.
In 2020, infrastructure generated 11% less revenues than in 2019. The situation slightly worsened in January 2021 (-13%) and has stagnated since May at -10%. This overall loss figure is mainly due to three infrastructure managers who are losing more, mostly due to a lowering of charges not fully compensated by their MSs.
Since June 2021, volumes (in train-km) have been overall back to their 2019 levels. On average, revenue losses are higher than volume losses. The gap increases to the detriment of revenues as some infrastructure managers lower charges without adequate compensations by the authorities.
In conclusion of the meeting, Philippe Lorand, UIC Senior Advisor Passenger, and Marc Guigon, invited members of the Task Force to put forth topics they wish to discuss in the next meetings.
As per usual, Members are encouraged to share their thoughts on recommendations for the new normal – either by writing to the UIC Task Force team or by posting in the UIC Extranet: https://extranet.uic.org/index.php
All guidance documents can be consulted on UIC’s dedicated Covid-19 webpage, which is regularly updated with the latest video, news articles, webinars and other audiovisual material: https://uic.org/covid-19
As a reminder, the Task Force LinkedIn group is open to members. Feel free to join the group and share your thoughts: https://lnkd.in/eEKqfW2
The next two Task Force web-conferences are scheduled to take place on 23 November 2021 (13.00-15.00 CET). Members are asked to give details of their expectations of future meetings.