Safer travel guidance for public transport users, walkers, cyclists, drivers

There is guidance to help you understand how to travel safely as restrictions ease in Northern Ireland during the recovery phase of coronavirus (COVID-19). This includes when using public transport, walking, cycling and travelling by car.

When travelling or using transport

To stop the virus spreading, it's important that we all play our part and work together. When planning to travel, or when using transport, this means:

  • you should not travel if you are experiencing coronavirus symptoms, self-isolating, or have been advised to continue to shield
  • if you can, work from home
  • when you do travel, walk or cycle whenever possible
  • keep two metres social distance - where that's not possible try to keep at least one metre, taking suitable precautions such as wearing a face covering
  • you must, by law, wear a face covering on public transport and in stations, unless you are exempt or have a reasonable excuse 
  • wash or sanitise your hands regularly and do not touch your face
  • be considerate of the needs of older people, people with a disability and others who may be particularly affected by restrictions
  • treat transport staff with respect and follow the advice of your transport operator
  • the latest public health advice can be found on the Public Health Agency website

Before you travel

Before you decide to travel, think about where you're travelling to and how easy it will be to maintain social distance on your journey and at your destination.

It is more difficult to maintain social distancing in crowded areas. Thinking about this before you travel can help protect yourself and others.

You should also ask yourself:

  • can I walk or cycle to my destination?
  • have I checked the latest travel advice from my transport operator?
  • have I booked my travel ticket online, bought a pass or checked if contactless payment is possible?
  • have I planned my journey to avoid crowded areas and allow for delays?
  • am I taking the most direct route to my destination?

You should take with you:

  • a face covering – these are legally required on public transport and in stations since 10 July 2020, unless you are exempt from the law or have a reasonable excuse 
  • contactless payment card or pass
  • phone (if needed for travel updates, tickets, contactless payments)
  • tickets
  • hand sanitiser
  • essential medicines
  • tissues

Face coverings

Since 10 July 2020 it has been the law to wear a face covering when using public transport services. 

Passengers and staff must wear a face covering:

  • on bus, coach and train services
  • in public transport stations
  • in indoor areas of a ferry and outdoor areas where you can’t keep two metres social distance

This law does not apply to tour coaches and taxis or private hire vehicles but some operators may have their own rules you should follow.

Some people are exempt from the requirement to wear face coverings, for example:

  • staff working behind a protective screen
  • children under 13 years old

or

  • people with a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to wear one

You can get more information about face coverings, including wearing them on public transport, at this link:

Travelling on public transport

Planning your journey

To cope with the coronavirus pandemic, public transport operators have made changes to their services.

Before and during your journey, check with your transport operator for the latest travel advice for your route.

For Translink services (Metro, Glider, Ulsterbus, NI Railways and Enterprise), you can get the latest information by checking Translink’s journey planner on the day you wish to travel or by phoning 028 9066 6630.

You can also find useful information on the COVID-19 section of Translink's website.

You can also find information online about the Strangford Ferry and the Rathlin Island Ferry.

For bus and coach services, contact your travel operator directly on the day you wish to travel for up-to-date advice.

Try to start or end your journey using a station or service you know to be quieter. For instance, walk the first or last mile of your journey, or get off at an earlier station or stop, where this is possible.

If you can, travel at off-peak times. Your transport provider can advise you when these are, but the peak times are usually between 7.30 am and 9.30 am, and 4.00 pm and 6.00 pm.

Your employer may agree alternative or flexible working hours to support this.

Buying a ticket

It is important to reduce contact as much as possible to protect both passengers and staff.

Use contactless payments or pre-paid tickets where possible, for example on Translink services use tickets such as mLink, Smartlink, dayLink or iLink.

If you must use cash, try to have the correct change. Bear in mind some operators are not offering change at present, while others are not accepting cash at all.

If you can, book your travel online through your transport operator’s ticketing app or website.

Some other operators may have special arrangements in place for buying tickets, for example contactless-only payments, so check with your operator before you travel.

For Translink services (Metro, Glider, Ulsterbus, NI Railways and Enterprise), you can get the latest information on ticket services at this link:

On your journey

The number of passengers buses or trains can carry will be fewer than normal due to social distancing.

Some services may be at capacity and unable to pick up further passengers particularly at busier periods. This may affect your journey and you should be prepared to wait for the next service.

When travelling, keep a two-metre distance from people outside your household at all times.

There may be situations where this is difficult, for example:

  • when getting on or off transport
  • on busier services
  • at busier times of day
  • when walking through stations

In these cases, you must:

  • wear a face covering to protect others, unless you are exempt from the law and/ or have a reasonable excuse 
  • avoid physical contact
  • try to face away from other people
  • keep the time you spend near others as short as possible

When travelling you should also:

  • treat transport staff with respect and follow instructions from your transport operator, including notices in stations about which seats to use or how to queue - they are trying to keep everyone safe
  • wash or sanitise your hands before and after you travel, as well as after you touch frequently-used surfaces like door controls and handrails (new public sanitation units are in stations for your convenience or carry your own hand sanitiser)
  • be prepared to queue or take a different entrance or exit at stations
  • wait for passengers to get off first before you board making sure to allow room for social distancing
  • respect other people’s space while travelling
  • avoid consuming food and drink on public transport, where possible
  • be considerate of pregnant women, older people, people with disabilities, or those travelling with children, who may require a seat or extra space including the use of priority seating and the priority space for wheelchair users on buses and trains
  • be aware and considerate of some individuals who may have hidden disabilities and may not be able to follow some of the rules, like social distancing or wearing a face covering

Some transport providers (such as ferry operators) may have additional advice in relation to social distancing or health and safety – you must follow this advice at all times.

Seeking help if you need it

If you need help when travelling you should continue to receive this. If you usually book assistance you should continue to ask for this in the usual way so your transport operator can prepare accordingly.

Talk to your transport operator about any concerns before you travel and let them know what assistance you need, for example help with queuing or getting on or off vehicles.

If you have any problems or you feel ill during your journey, speak to a member of transport staff. In the case of an emergency, contact the emergency services as you normally would.

If you need help, keep two metres from members of staff. Where this is not possible, you should try to avoid physical contact and keep the time you spend near staff as short as possible.

Children on public transport

Where travel is necessary, think about whether children could walk or cycle, accompanied by a responsible adult or carer, where appropriate.

Social distancing applies to children as well as adults.

Children should also keep a two-metre distance from others who are not in their household.

Where this is not possible, children should:

  • avoid physical contact
  • face away from others
  • keep the time spent near others as short as possible

If you are the responsible adult or carer travelling with children, help them follow this guidance, wear face coverings, reduce the number of surfaces they touch and keep their distance from others.

Children under 13-years-old are not recommended to wear face coverings.

Finishing your journey

When finishing your journey, you should:

  • continue to wear your face covering until you have left the public transport station
  • remove your face covering by the straps and then wash your hands for at least 20 seconds or sanitise your hands
  • wash or sanitise the hands of any children travelling within your care
  • think about walking or cycling from the station or stop you arrive at
  • follow any further instructions issued by your transport provider

When you return home, wash your face covering before you reuse it, if the material is washable.

If it’s not washable, dispose of it carefully in the general waste.

Walking and cycling

Think about walking or cycling for all or part of your journey, if you can.

Walking and cycling will reduce pressure on the public transport system and the road network and can be a quicker means of travel. 

Walking

When planning your walking journey, make sure you allow enough time and wear appropriate footwear for the distance that you are walking.

Any shoes or trainers that are comfortable, provide enough support and do not cause blisters will do.

When walking, practise social distancing and continue to stay alert for vehicles.

There are a number of steps which can be taken to remain safe when on foot:

  • help visibility by wearing bright or contrasting clothing by day and wear something reflective at night
  • pay attention to surroundings and don’t be distracted by mobile phones or headphones
  • always check the road is clear before stepping off the pavement to cross to the other side or to social distance from other people
  • hold younger children’s hands and make sure your child walks on the side of the pavement away from the traffic
  • if there is no footpath, walk on the right hand side of the road, facing oncoming traffic and keep as close as possible to the side of the road

More information on keeping safe when walking on the roads is available in The Highway Code rules for pedestrians.

Cycling

Cycling is a quick and easy way to travel and the introduction of e-bikes can make longer distances and cycling to work more attractive than before.

If you don’t have your own bike, there may be a local cycling scheme you can use.

Your local council may help you plan your journey by providing maps showing dedicated paths and routes or there are various journey apps you can use.

Many route suggestions will involve using the public road. If you are not sure, check your journey thoroughly before you set off. 

If you are using a shared bike (whether public or privately-hired), wash your hands for at least 20 seconds or sanitise your hands before and after cycling.

Where possible, try to keep social distancing when you cycle, for example when approaching or passing pedestrians or waiting at crossings and traffic lights. Continue to stay alert for other vehicles using the road.

Be aware of pedestrians even though they may be walking safely on a footpath. They may change direction for reasons not immediately apparent, perhaps suddenly stepping off the footpath into traffic to allow a safe social distance. 

There are steps that you can take to increase safety when cycling on the road:

  • improve visibility by wearing bright or contrasting clothing by day and reflective clothing at night
  • wear a helmet and ensure your bicycle has the correct lights fitted

Check The Highway Code rules for cyclists for what you must do as a cyclist and for road safety information.

Travelling by car

We all have a personal responsibility to take care and drive in a way that keeps both ourselves and others safe as we share the road.

Before travelling, it is important that you plan your journey and check the latest travel advice.

Some areas may have made changes to enable social distancing on pavements and cycle routes.

You should:

  • expect more pedestrians and cyclists than usual, especially at peak times of day
  • allow other road users to maintain social distance, where possible (for example, give cyclists space at traffic lights)
  • give pedestrians time to cross the road and watch out for people stepping off the pavement suddenly onto the road for social distancing from others
  • be aware of passengers getting off public transport, especially on rural routes

You should wash or sanitise your hands before your journey and, if you are the driver, you should encourage passengers to do likewise.

Be aware of the surfaces within your vehicle that you or others touch. If the vehicle is your responsibility, you should regularly clean areas such as the steering wheel and door handles.

Where people from different households need to use a vehicle at the same time, good ventilation (keeping the car windows open) and facing away from each other may help to reduce the risk of transmission.

You may wish to wear a face covering to protect others.

Where possible, think about seating arrangements to best increase distance between people in the vehicle.

You should limit the time you spend at garages, petrol stations and motorway services. You should keep a two metre distance from others and pay by contactless methods, if possible.

When passing cyclists, give as much room as you would when passing a car – a minimum of one-and-a-half metres.

Give people cycling plenty of time and space. They may be new to cycling or returning to cycling, and may be unsteady or lack confidence on the road.

Remember – the speed limit is the maximum speed allowed for travel on that road, but consider travelling at a reduced speed. Reducing speed will give more time to react safely to the unexpected and help avoid a collision.

You should:

  • reduce your speed
  • wear a seatbelt
  • pay attention
  • ignore the phone
  • never, ever drive having taken alcohol or drugs

When finishing your journey, wash or sanitise your hands as soon as possible and make sure that keys or fobs are also cleaned regularly.

Travel outside of Northern Ireland (including cross-border travel)

If travelling abroad is essential, make sure you check the latest advice on the coronavirus (COVID-19) travel advice page.

Before travelling you should check and follow any rules and government guidance set by your destination country and check public health advice when returning to Northern Ireland.

Cross-border travel

Translink has reduced its cross-border coach and Enterprise rail services. You can get the latest information by checking Translink’s journey planner on the day you wish to travel or by phoning 028 9066 6630.

You can find the Irish government's latest public health advice at this link:

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