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Public transport during the pandemic: Calls for more buses and trains for Bonn school children

Public transport during the pandemic : Calls for more buses and trains for Bonn school children

While the corona incidence rate among ten to 14-year-olds is rising dramatically, school heads and parents are calling for extra services on Bonn's public transport in the mornings. The distances required to reduce the risk of infection cannot be maintained.

School children are standing close together, often shoulder to shoulder or tummy to back. This is the picture of everyday life on Bonn's buses and trams on certain routes in the early morning, when thousands of children and youngsters make their daily journey to school. A journey that was exhausting even before the corona pandemic has now become a health risk too. At a time when corona incidence rates in the ten- to 14-year-old age group are exploding, the sight of an overcrowded bus in the mornings raises the question from Bonn school officials and parents of why there are not more relief services.

Since 18 August, Stadtwerke Bonn (SWB) has been offering 17 so-called amplifier buses on the busy routes from 6.45 in the morning - a renewed reaction to the corona circumstances. In addition, there are six special services at lunchtime and during the afternoon. A morning visit to the bus stops in the north of Bonn confirms the impression that heads and parents are describing to the GA. During morning rush hour, buses and trains are usually at least full, if not overcrowded. Distances are not being maintained and boarding and alighting is not regulated.

Quickly aboard the crowded tram to avoid being late for school

The overcrowding is no wonder when the children want to be at school on time for the start of class. And so phrases like “I still have to get on” can be heard, while even the youngest children are squeezing themselves into a carriage on line 61 which would already have been considered full even before the pandemic. A number of the young passengers appear to be under the minimum age of twelve required for the current vaccination recommendation. They are therefore not able to protect themselves with an immunisation, while they crowd on to the train with other youngsters who can be vaccinated. Nevertheless, many of the older students are not yet fully vaccinated.

Whilst the number of corona cases is steadily increasing among children in Bonn, this is an impossible situation, say the parents of a ten-year-old girl who contacted the GA. Normally, their daughter would travel by tram from the north-east of Bonn to her school in the south-west, but due to the current situation they have now organised the somewhat difficult journey to school by bike. In a letter received by the GA, the parents ask the city authorities, who are responsible for the relief services, to take a closer look at the situation, particularly with regard to line 61.

School heads call for more transport services

Bonn school officials also explain that the previous extra services have not been enough. “Public transport is and remains a problem,” says Thomas Braunsfeld, head of Collegium Josephinum Gymnasium on Kölnstraße. In his view, the Stadtwerke have not sufficiently reinforced the routes with extra services. “Some of the buses are just as full as they were before the pandemic,” Braunsfeld notes. He confirms the impression that the children would rather squeeze into a full bus than wait for the next one - because they want to be on time for school. At the moment, many pupils are brought by car or come by bike, he said.

Rainer Winand also sees this at the Integrated Gesamtschule on Siegburger Straße in Beuel. The idea of delaying the start of lessons for different classes in order to balance out pupil travel does not work, the headmaster emphasises. “That would mean additional lesson cancellations.” Spokesperson Michael Henseler explains that the Stadtwerke had already placed a delayed start of classes on the agenda at an early stage of the pandemic. On the question of further relief possibilities, he refers to the issue of jurisdiction: “The Bonn city authorities would have to commission more amplified services to the SWB.”

City authorities point to major challenge

In response to a GA enquiry, the city authorities address the situation in the mornings by pointing out the difficulty of being able to “optimally adapt the transport offer to meet demand in advance”. Deputy city spokesman Marc Hoffmann emphasises that around 52,000 pupils have to be transported to over 100 schools in the city area. In total, he said, there are already more than 50 amplified services on school days, “these are specifically geared to the schools and access locations that are not satisfactorily served by the regular lines.”

To be able to react further to the requirements, schools, public transport users and parents, for example, would have to “name specific buses and the times at which utilisation is too high”, says Hoffmann. “Then the city authorities and SWB can offer additional services, if necessary, after carrying out a joint review with a lead time of a few weeks.” From the city planning office’s point of view, the offer was satisfactory up to the 2021 summer holidays, and there had been no complaints about overcrowded buses, the spokesperson said. “The feedback from the schools was also positive.” But the latest statements by those responsible indicate that this is no longer the case.

(Original text: Alexander Barth and Andreas Baumann, Translation: Caroline Kusch)