Must-Have Ingredients for a Safe Commute

Some employees cannot perform their job duties remotely. For those who need to travel into the office, how can you ensure that members of your team have a safe and reliable means to get to work?

Johann Weber
Program Manager

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Key Takeaways

Transit Is Safer Than You Might Think
Transit Is Safer Than You Might Think

Based on research to-date, transmission risks on transit are very small so long as adequate distancing and mask use are in place.

A Breath of Fresh Air
A Breath of Fresh Air

Air on transit vehicles is filtered every 70-80 seconds, and fully replaced by fresh air every 3 minutes.

Prepare Your Employees for the Ride
Prepare Your Employees for the Ride

Share information with your employees about local transit providers and their safety protocols. We have an informational flyer you can use.

Why We Travel For Work

How safe or risky is transit?

Half the U.S. workforce cannot perform their jobs remotely. These professionals rely on safe and dependable commuting options to access their worksite. While driving alone is a choice for many, transit is every bit as critical as ever. The costs of automobile ownership preclude many from driving, and the burdens of driving remain: congestion, parking, traffic violence, etc.  

How can you ensure that your employees have a safe and reliable means to get to workIs transit really an option right now?

There is some good news here – transit agencies are doing a lot to reduce transmission

These are the 4 essential questions to ask about your transit system:

Question 1: How is air handled in transit vehicles and stations?

In addition to the well-documented importance of appropriate distancing and facial coverings, exposure risk is heavily tied to time, and the density of any viral particles in the air. This is why outdoor spaces are safer  contaminated air has a chance to disperse more. This means less time exposed to contaminated air, and fewer contaminated particles per unit of air. Open-air stations, such as those at or above-ground function like outdoor space.  

Within vehicles, the core factors are: (1) How often and (2) how well is air being filtered? At minimum, train car vehicles have filtered all the air on board within 3 minutes (the same air exchange rate as for an airliner)2. Buses and some train cars filter the air even more frequently (e.g. within 70 seconds is the norm for the Bay Area’s BART trains). Even the lower end air exchange rate on transit vehicles is at least 2-3 times more frequent than that for office buildings3While small spaces make distancing more challenging, they can make air filtration more frequent. The second key piece is how well that air is being filtered. The EPA, ASHRAE, and CDC recommend using filters with at least a MERV rating of 13 for filters to capture viral particles. MERV 14 or 16 are considered even more effective, with HEPA filters being considered the most preferred.   

Vehicle  Air Refresh Rate  Filter Rating 
MARTA Train  Air filtered every 1.24 minutes and replaced with fresh air every 3.7 minutes  MERV-8* 
MARTA Bus  Air replaced every 1.2 minutes   
Xpress Bus     

Question 2: How busy is the system? Is there sufficient space?

Obviously in order to best distance riders from each other, the comfortable number of riders on a train decreases sizably. This makes it even more important for riders to consider when they ride (is it a high volume period?), where they ride (is this car too full?), and how they ride (are they seating to allow safe space for other riders?). Transit agencies are taking these things very seriously, and many provide detailed information in the form of load charts or even advising on which cars to avoid. While the specific information can vary from system to system and line to line, transit agencies generally see peak volumes earlier in the mornings, from 7 to 9amWhen boarding your train, look for cars with fewer people: train cars furthest from stairs or other platform entry points are likely to have the smallest crowds. This usually makes the cars at the far ends (front and back) the ones with the most available space. On buses, it’s common for the rear of the vehicle to have fewer riders than the front.  

Vehicle  Peak Capacity  Busiest Period 
MARTA Train  96 riders   
MARTA Bus4  57 riders   
Xpress Bus     
Note: a common practice is to restrict capacity to 30% of Peak Capacity to maintain social distancing. But realities of physical spacing on a vehicle can make a comfortable capacity less than 30% of Peak.   

Some transit agencies (like D.C.’s WMATA and L.A. Metro) are already tackling this information need for riders by building dashboards or mobile tools for riders to see system activity by time, and be able to plan their trips accordingly.  

Question 3: How does the agency ensure safe practices by riders?

Ensuring the responsible conduct of other users is no easy task in any space. However, transit agencies are equipped and empowered to manage their spaces and vehicles to ensure that all patrons have a safe experience.  

Confirm your agency’s policies surrounding distancing, masking, and other conduct (or contact us for more detailed information)Confirm what enforcement practices are in place, particular those that will help riders address observed issues (such as a mobile app or phone # for riders to quickly report issues or dangerous behavior). Expert consensus is that the consistent safe conduct of other riders is the single biggest piece for a safe transit system. However: riders should not directly address improper behavior with other riders – report the issue to a transit agency employee (preferably an enforcement professional) and allow them to address it directly for the safety of all passengers.  

Question 4: Am I equipped to reduce my own exposure through PPE and other supplies?

Ensure that your employees have ready access to quality personal protective equipment such as effective masks and hand sanitizer. But consider also going beyond this, to provide unique resources that will help riders be safe and comfortable, such as personal hang-straps for the train or bus 

Ok, I know a lot more now. What can I do next to make commuting safer for my people?

  • Ensure they have accurate, and current information on agency practices – distribute our safe commute flyer 
  • Give employees the flexibility to modify their schedules to select lower-volume periods (can be one-off flexibility or modifying recurrent shifts).  
  • Ensure they have quality PPE 
  • Provide extra tools to make them comfortable (personal straps, hand sanitizer, etc)
  • For remote-viable roles, allow employees the opportunity to continue to balance between remote and on-site work 
  • Support alternative commute options (it’s a great time to walk, bike, or scoot) 
  • Work with your local Transportation Management Association (TMA) or other transportation partners to provide commuting services or coordinate with your transit agency directly to help ensure sufficient capacity is in place before your employees return to transit commuting (more info below) 

Learn More

Additional Research

How Risky Is This, Compared to This?

National Geographic has a great interactive visualization of transmission risk modeling built by a collaborative of academic experts nationwide. See how the train and bus compare to the office or classroom.

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The Research Is Encouraging

Research from around the world shows that transit has had little or no role in spreading COVID, and steps to reduce risk on transit through masking and ventilation have significant effects.

Read More
See It For Yourself

To see how air moves around a train car and how impactful mask wearing is, check out this interactive article from the New York Times.

Read More

Share With Your Employees

Your Guide to a Safe Transit Ride

Share our employee flyer with the ingredients for a safe commute. 

We’ve prepared the flyer with all the most essential information for your employees to navigate their transit trips with lower risk and greater confidence.  

It includes the highlights from this article and equips them to contact us with any questions or issues to take the pressure off you.

This Was Made With You in Mind

Our team crafted this eBook to help you create a more balanced workday, even in the face of ever-changing circumstances. Learn how we can bring more support to your company right now.

Looking for more practical guidance as you prep your 2021 playbook?

Check out these popular balanced work resources.

Download: Guide to Balanced Work

Striking the Right Balance for How Your Team Works

The Exciting Future of the Office

VMware’s Ani Banerjee Discusses Rethinking Work

Download: Digital WFH Care Package

Download: Guide to a Safe Transit Ride