“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.
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 – 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 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.
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?