How Safe are Local Travel Options?

Commuting by train with a face mask on

As New Jersey and New York move through phased COVID-19 reopening plans, more people are leaving their homes, traveling locally, and heading back to work. But as the pandemic continues, many are wondering if transportation options like public transit, trains, taxis, rental cars, and rideshare services are safe.

Short of driving your own car, there are risks involved no matter what mode of travel you consider. Key factors include your own health status, the health of those in your household, and the rate of new COVID-19 cases in your area. That said, there are ways to mitigate the risks for you and your family of coming into contact with the virus.

Follow General Health Guidelines

Whether booking a car service or commuting via bus or subway, you should continue to engage in practices to protect yourself and slow the spread of COVID-19. The CDC advises those using any type of transportation to follow these general principles:

  • Wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds. Pack sanitizing wipes or hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol in case you are unable to wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Practice social distancing.
  • Wear a face covering.
  • Stay home if you are sick.

Using Public Transit

Transit agencies are slowly increasing service to meet demand and allow space for social distancing. Trains, subways, PATH, buses, and ferries are returning to pre-pandemic schedules and easing capacity restrictions. But at the same time they are implementing new regulations regarding cleaning and sanitizing, maintaining social distancing, and mandating that riders wear face coverings.

It is essential to check with your local transit authorities for the latest information on service changes and procedures. Additional tips for protecting yourself while using mass transit include:

  • Travel during non-peak hours.
  • Skip a row of seats between yourself and other riders.
  • Enter and exit buses through rear entry doors.
  • Limit touching frequently used surfaces like ticket machines, turnstiles, handrails, restroom surfaces, elevator buttons, and benches.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands after completing your trip.

A Word About Train Travel

Trains offer an alternate option for those who are looking to travel regionally or long-distance but are not ready to hop on a plane. The primary risk in train travel comes from fellow passengers and staff, so focus on maintaining impeccable hand hygiene and social distancing.

National railroad service Amtrak has implemented new safety measures meant to facilitate a safe travel experience, including enhanced cleaning protocols at stations. Travelers must wear masks and ticket sales on reserved services are limited to allow for social distancing.

Taxis, Limousines, and Rideshare Services

The risks of using a car service or taking a taxi, Uber, or Lyft vary somewhat. Ridesharing companies require drivers and passengers to wear face coverings. Car services as well as Uber and Lyft are providing drivers with cleaning supplies. Limo and taxi companies generally offer more protection with plexiglass barriers between the front and back seat which reduce exposure between the passenger and driver.

To help further limit your risks, you may want to:

• Avoid contact with frequently touched surfaces such as door frames, handles, and windows.
• Limit the number of passengers in the vehicle to only those necessary.
• Ask the driver to improve the ventilation by opening the windows or setting the ventilation/air conditioning on non- recirculation mode.

Rental Cars

If you are a city dweller without a car, you might be wondering how safe it is to rent one. The good news is the overall risk for virus transmission is fairly low. All major rental car companies have put enhanced cleaning measures in place to ensure customers feel confident that vehicles are sanitized every time they rent. If you are still concerned, wipe down the knobs, steering wheel, and other high-touch areas.

Shared Bikes and Scooters

Many commuters are opting to avoid crowded buses, trains, and platforms by renting bicycles and scooters. The key to using these devices safely is to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Use disinfecting wipes to sanitize handlebars, gears, braking handles, and locks before you set off.