2020 has been an impressive year, without doubt. We have seen some incredible headlines, from illicit swinger clubs in Zaragoza, the devastation to the night life and hostelry sector, potential asteroid destruction of the Earth, Zaragoza shaken awake by earthquakes to even the Británicos keeping a clean sheet! Yet nothing has prepared us for the escalating madness of 2020 as the Catalan regional government has now made a plea to public transport users to not speak on public transport.
The lack of conversation on public transport is famously not uncommon in London, where people often travel in sullen silence but in rush hour people tend to travel alone and are rather introvert during their journey even in the sprawling metropolis of Barcelona.
The request has been promoted from Monday November 9th for people using underground services, trains, trams or buses throughout the region. Trains being operated by Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat will even include a "silent coach" in which speaking will not be permitted. Underground, tram and bus networks are unable to introduce an isolated silence carriage as there is no way to separate sections of the vehicle but the services will display posters and make announcements to remind people of the request not to eat, speak or drink.
The Catalan Minister of Territory and Sustainability Damiá Calvet has been keen to stress that not speaking, eating or drinking on public transport was a recommendation not an obligation. He stressed that the issue was more at rush hour rather than the use of public transport in general. Usage is currently lower than usual, with 50 to 60% of normal capacity during the week and 70 to 80% at weekends. There have been concerns that at times of peak demand it is impossible to maintain social distance, but Calvet has reiterated that there is no further capacity available for rush hour services. The Minister stressed that what needs to happen is to spread out the use of services so there is not an exaggerated peak where "everyone uses public transport between 8 and 9 o'clock in the morning".
In October the Spanish Health Ministry concluded that Barcelona should reduce capacity on public transport by 30% to help stem infections. There is a regional perimeter confinement in place, a curfew between 10pm and 6am and all hostelry is closed except for take away services. A further measure in place in the Catalan region is also a restriction on travel beyond town or city limits of residence between 12am on Friday and 12pm on Sunday.
Recent recommendations on rush hour services in Zaragoza are for people to wait for the next tram or bus if social distancing is not possible. These announcements are often met with derision or pointedly ignored. There are clear limits to what is viable and what is possible when trying to maintain functioning normal life and attempting to wage war on a virus.