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Dirty London

Faecal bacteria and life threatening superbugs found on London’s public transport

Taxi insurers, Staveley Head, partnered with London Metropolitan University to put London’s transport under the microscope. The results are quite scary.

One hundred and twenty-one different types of bacteria and mould were found upon public transport in London, including nine bacteria species associated with antibiotic resistant superbugs. This follows news that seats within seven out of the 11 Tube lines are never cleaned.

The Metro conducted a Freedom of Information request in February, looking into how often the London Underground is cleaned. The data revealed that, although each tube carriage gets a basic clean every night, the seats on the District, Jubilee, Northern, Circle, Piccadilly, Metropolitan and Hammersmith and City lines are never shampooed.

The seats on the Bakerloo, Victoria and Central lines are washed once every six months to a year.

The seats are simply brushed or patted down – which is not efficient enough, as Staveley Head’s research proves.

London goes Under the Microscope
Following the news that the London Underground is rarely cleaned to a high standard, taxi insurers Staveley Head put London public transport, including buses, Tubes and taxis, under the microscope to discover how dirty it really is.

The microbiology department at The London Metropolitan University supported the study, taking a total of 80 swabs across the capital. They tested hand rails, seats and walls and took their findings back to the lab to study the results.

The results
Although public transport is known to be somewhat unhygienic, the study has revealed that London transport is shockingly dirty and plays host to a hotbed of bacteria.

The World Health Organisation drew up a list of the drug-resistant bacteria that pose the biggest threat to human health. Bacteria species associated nine of them were found to be living upon London’s public transport.

The London Underground was found to be the dirtiest form of transport, with a wide range of bacteria festering within the Tube lines.

The Tube lines (cleanest to dirtiest)

  • Metropolitan line – 11 bacteria found
  • Bakerloo line – 13 bacteria found
  • Hammersmith and City line – 14 bacteria found
  • Central line – 16 bacteria found
  • Waterloo and City line – 16 bacteria found
  • District line – 17 bacteria found
  • Northern line – 18 bacteria found
  • Jubilee line – 18 bacteria found
  • Piccadilly line – 20 bacteria found
  • Circle line – 20 bacteria found
  • Victoria line – 22 bacteria found

Dr Matewele said: “Not only did we find life threatening bacteria, but other forms of mould and bacteria that can be harmful to human health were discovered as part of this research. Staphylococcus was a popular bacterium found upon all forms of transport.

“Staph bacteria live upon the skin and can cause skin problems. Puss-filled boils can generate from contact with Staph bacteria, but more serious infections in the blood, lungs and heart can also be developed.

“Bacteria from rodents like rats and mice were also found upon Tube lines, along with bacteria found in faeces and bacteria from sewage. These can cause water infections or skin infections like abscesses if you come into contact with them.”

Faeces and salmonella found inside taxis in London
Taxis were found to be no cleaner than the Tube lines – cabs hosted 14 living bacteria, on average. Alongside Staphylococcus Aureus, Aeromonas Veronii, which can cause pneumonia and meningitis, was found living inside private hire taxis. Traces of faecal bacteria and salmonella were also detected.

According to the study, buses host the least bacteria (an average of eight) but the most mould, including Alternaria, Fusarium and Penicillium. Those who use buses in London are in danger of contracting urinary tract infections due to E. faecalis and Proteus Vulgaris. 

The cleanest Tube line was the Metropolitan line, which held just 11 living bacteria, including the kind associated with toxic shock syndrome, staphylococcus aureus.

Buses hosted 37 bacteria in total. The Tube lines held 95 different bacteria and Taxis in London held 40.

Ashley Peters, Managing Director at Staveley Head commented: “As insurers of taxi and Uber cabs in London, we were interested to see the results of the tests. We’ve always felt that it makes good business sense for drivers to regularly clean both the inside and outside of their vehicles – not least because it can have a big impact on Uber driver ratings – but it’s now also clear that there is a huge benefit in helping to prevent bacteria developing and stopping it from spreading.

“We’d also obviously recommend that passengers riding the Tube lines and buses practice good hygiene and regularly use hand sanitiser.”

Astounded by the plethora of bacteria festering on the capital’s public transport, Staveley Head have launched an interactive asset where you can explore each form of transport under UV and see the bacteria discovered. Explore the ‘London Under the Microscope’ campaign here.


About Sarah OBeirne

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