European Mobility Week:  Are our cities’ urban mobility workers staying healthy?

16 Sep 2021

“Stay healthy.”: Easier said than done for Europe’s urban public transport workers. ETF breaks down the whys and takes us through how local authorities, public transport companies, ride-hailing and delivery platforms can better ensure the health and safety of their workers.

From drivers, maintenance and customer service workers to taxi, ride-hailing and delivery drivers – there are a wide array of professions in urban mobility that keep our cities moving. With this year’s European Mobility Week – the European Commission’s annual awareness-raising campaign on sustainable urban mobility – focusing on the theme “Move Sustainably. Stay Healthy” perhaps now is a good time to ask: are the transport workers who help us move sustainably staying healthy?

In short, the answer is no.

Our cities’ transport workers face a wide range of work-related health risks due to ergonomics, stress, excessive workloads, transmittable diseases, traffic conditions, pollution and aggressions.

Working conditions

Bus, tram, metro and taxi drivers spend most of their time in a seated and forced position, constantly subjected to vehicle vibration. The consequences of these working conditions are illustrated in numerous studies showing that this increases the risk of musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

Aside from physical discomfort, these workers are also faced with high levels of stress and fatigue. Traffic conditions, time pressure, insufficient staffing, digital surveillance and long working hours take a toll on urban mobility workers’ mental health. The situation is especially dire among the ride-hailing workers who cannot count on fixed wages. The more they drive, the more they earn, leading to fatigue.

Road safety

Road safety – or lack of it – particularly affects delivery platform workers. Recent years have regularly brought the news of workers losing their lives in accidents, for example, in Italy earlier this year, where a Deliveroo rider and a father of 2 lost his life while collecting an order.

External factors

External factors can have a longer-term impact on professional drivers. They are constantly exposed to air pollution causing several health issues, from respiratory problems to cancer. Vehicle fumes also contribute to climate change, which in turn increases the risk of heat stress. Although air conditioning is a standard feature in modern urban public transport fleet, sometimes it does not work properly, or the drivers are encouraged to switch it off as its use increases petrol consumption.

COVID-19

In the early days of the pandemic, with the lack of PPE and proper sanitary measures, many workers contracted the virus, which proved fatal. To add insult to injury, violence towards urban mobility workers increased during the pandemic.

Belly Mujinga, a ticket officer in London, fell ill and died after being spat at by a passenger claiming to be infected. There have been multiple reports from various European countries of workers being attacked and even killed by passengers refusing to comply with sanitary rules.

So, what can local authorities, public transport companies, ride-hailing and delivery platforms do to take care of the workers?

  • Urban Mobility Package: The European Commission’s upcoming UMP must take public transport workers into consideration and showcase best practices for Occupational Health and Safety.
  • Keep public transport public: Research shows that privatisation and outsourcing of public transport companies can negatively impact working conditions. ETF has been consistently advocating treating public transport as a public good, managed for the benefit of citizens and workers, and not only for corporate profit.
  • Engage with unions: Public transport companies should work together with workers and trade unions to identify areas for improvement and design measures to address existing issues.
  • Guarantee sufficient funding: Appropriate funding for public transport companies is key to better facilities, sustainable staffing levels, decent wages and training opportunities, which will improve job satisfaction. Adequate staffing will also allow for better shift scheduling and, consequently – work-life balance.
  • Ensure OHS: Sanitary and rest facilities are important features in improving public transport workers’ occupational health and safety. ITF’s Transport Workers’ Sanitation Charter details what is needed to ensure proper standards for workers.
  • Tackle violence: In 2020, ETF and UITP adopted joint recommendations for combating violence and insecurity in urban public transport. They cover, among other issues, the organisation of work and technology and design of the workplace.
  • Improve air quality: Deploying clean buses will limit air pollution, but policy makers must also strive to improve air quality in cities holistically through measures such as low emission zones.
  • Create stricter rules to protect workers: For workers of ride-hailing and delivery platforms, there is an urgent need for legislative action to ensure that they have decent working conditions. Earlier this year, ETF published its Manifesto for Fair Platform Work, listing necessary changes that we hope to see in the European Commission’s upcoming proposal for EU law addressing the issue.
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