How can municipalities reach out to their residents to inform them about their COVID-19 strategy?
The key to the City of Stuttgart's successful strategy for passenger transport and communicating with people with disabilities or a migrant background is: keep messaging simple and provide information in several languages and on various channels.
A large and multi-faceted city like Stuttgart, in which 45 per cent of the population has a migrant background and some 48,000 have a disability, must remain true to its pledge to be international, integrative and inclusive, even during the COVID-19 crisis. To curb the pandemic, information has to reach all sections of the public, irrespective of age, cultural background, gender, disability or vulnerability. This includes refugees whose often crowded housing facilities make good hygiene even harder to maintain. Public transport also brings a great many people together in one place, which increases the risk of infection. Consequently, protection measures are imperative here.
The City of Stuttgart not only wants to reach as many residents as possible with its messages, but also strengthen vulnerable groups and pro-actively involve them in its communication measures. Activities also aim to ensure that social distancing during lockdown does not overly isolate people with disabilities or the elderly. Public passenger transport has to be organised in a way that minimises the risk of infection from bus and rail use, thus ensuring services can be continued.
Tasked with reaching such a varied target group, the city is harnessing various communications channels. These range from personal visits to retirement and nursing homes, messaging via email, telephone or social media through to brochures and video spots in seven languages plus sign language.
Spontaneous concerts have been performed in front of several retirement and nursing homes and the Mayor of the City of Stuttgart has even visited one. These gestures are all sending out an important signal: The city is looking after its citizens, and never more than in these difficult times. Refugees in group accommodation are being made aware of hygiene regulations and these issues are also being communicated in language courses.
The company operating the city’s trams and buses (SBB) has also opted for a broad-scale communication approach featuring television ads, in-tram and on-platform announcements, social media, posters and even individual passenger notifications, whereby the objective is always the same: publicise SSB measures for minimising infection risks and keep customers informed about the rules currently in place. SBB’s design competition for face masks, for example, turned out to be a major attention grabber.
The more communication channels that are successfully leveraged, the more people can be informed about COVID-19 measures. At the same time: the more people get involved in activities to curb the pandemic, the more willing they are to accept them. In Stuttgart, for example, refugees were able to co-produce video messages, which also strengthened their role as members of the city's society.
SBB's information campaign, which showcases its efforts to step up transport vehicle cleaning and disinfection, its automatic door control systems in city trams and the possibility of buying tickets online, raises passenger confidence and thus increases the use of busses and rail services.
During a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, municipalities have to communicate well if they are to disseminate information and safeguard people's health. In this context, an inclusive approach targeting demographic groups particularly affected by the pandemic and role models capable of inspiring trust is needed from the outset. To reach all demographics, information has to be provided in several foreign languages as well as in a plain language version. The most important thing of all however is to remain in contact at all times.
Deputy, Department of Integration Policy
State Capital Stuttgart
Representative for the Interests of People with Disabilities
State Capital Stuttgart
Stuttgarter Straßenbahnen AG