The Guide to Public Transportation During COVID-19

Amy Sorter
Updated Mar 2, 2021
5 min read

For many workers who continue to travel to their places of employment, getting to their jobs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic depends on the use of public transportation, like riding a bus or a train, hailing a taxi or using a smartphone app to contact Uber or Lyft. Anyone involved in a rush-hour morning or evening commute knows many public transportation options involve a lot of people crammed together in tight spaces, making social distancing challenging. The good news is that both public and private transportation companies are doing their best to clean and sanitize in an effort to prevent coronavirus spread. The even better news is there are steps you can take to help protect yourself from contagion while using public transportation during COVID-19.

Public Transportation and Your Safety

The Federal Transit Authority (FTA) has provided recommended actions to transit agencies, geared to assist both employees and passengers in protecting them from the coronavirus. These include promoting healthy hygiene practices among employees and the routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces frequently touched.

Other public transportation agency actions have included more attention paid to capacity controls, the installation of plexiglass shields between commuters and employees, and providing more space and cars on each route, which encourages better separation between commuters. Other agencies have mandated measures to help create a physical separation between transit operators, facility employees and passengers.

Public transportation employees are also regularly tested and checked for symptoms. "Pre-shift questionnaires, temperature checks for drivers and full PPE — masks and gloves — have been widely adopted for professional drivers," said Ryan McManus, founder and CEO of SHARE Mobility.

Ridesharing services are also doing their part. "Drivers are required to wear masks, and many are providing hand sanitizer," said Alex Miller, Founder and CEO of He added that drivers are also keeping windows open for increased ventilation and are covering their seats with washable seats and covers. Meanwhile, Uber requires that all passengers wear masks. Lyft also followed suit and has also discontinued its shared ride service.

Things You Can Do to Stay Safe

As with anything involving slowing the transmission of the coronavirus, agency and corporate mandates and actions can only go so far. It's up to the people who ride the buses, trains and taxis to also take steps to protect themselves, and others. Before your next ride, consider following these safety tips: 

Keep Your Hands Clean

Self-protection, and the prevention of viral spread, starts even before you leave the house. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol before leaving your house. Whenever possible, try to minimize contact with surfaces touched by other passengers or drivers. And, once you reach your destination, break out the soap and water or hand sanitizer again.

Wear Protective Items

Wearing a mask is essential to slow the spread of COVID-19, whether you're in the grocery store or taking a commuter train to work. Also, "gloves are Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that most people are not using, but consider it when using public transportation," McManus said. "And don't touch your face."

Consider Alternate Routes or Transportation

The CDC recommends maintaining a distance of at least six feet while in transit. Keep this in mind as you are waiting for a bus or selecting seats on a train. However, maintaining recommended social distancing might not always be possible, especially during busy rush-hour periods. Miller's workaround involves selecting transit routes that might not be as frequently traveled or, when possible, walking or biking to work. Another option is to "talk to your employer about adjusting your work start time, and see if you can use mass transit during off-peak times," added McManus.

Open the Windows

If your commute involves a ridesharing service or taxi, wearing a mask and sitting in the back seat are crucial pieces of advice. Drivers should also wear a mask. Don't accept bottles of water or magazines from drivers. Opening the windows also allows fresh airflow throughout the vehicle. In poor weather, drivers should be encouraged to disable recirculation in their air conditioning controls and instead open the vent to outside air.

Stay Home

The best thing you can do for yourself and others around you is to stay home if you feel ill. Even if you're feeling fine, but have had close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, it's a good idea to stay away from public transportation options. However, if the train or bus is your only option and you require medical care, the CDC's mask, social distancing and hand hygiene mandates should be followed.

The Bottom Line

If you have to take public transportation to get to and from work, run errands or simply get around town, you can still protect yourself and others from contracting the coronavirus. Following appropriate hand sanitizing, social distancing and mask-wearing protocols, along with other strategies, can prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep you safe while riding public transportation or using ridesharing services during the pandemic.

(Photo by AnVr/ GettyImages)

Amy Sorter

Amy Sorter is a journalist whose articles have been published in The Simple Dollar, The Business Journals, Dallas Innovates, among others.

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