Applying social distancing to passenger transport

It won’t be easy…

Picture of man waiting for subway train
Picture of man waiting for subway train
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many experts are in favor of strict social distancing initiatives until a proper vaccine can be widely administered.

As national and regional governments are contemplating to gradually re-open their respective economies, the complexity of creating social distancing policies when it comes to passenger transportation is strikingly evident. Passenger transport often translates into packing a large number of individuals into tight, closed quarters… Yet transit authorities, airlines and cruise ship operators have a few ideas to make this happen.

Face covering

Covering one’s face is a well-know method used to stop the spread of viruses and contagious diseases. There are various types of face coverings such as surgical masks, N95 respirators; as well as non-medical “cloth masks” which can as simple as a scarf or bandana wrapped around a person’s nose and mouth.

Some airlines such as Air France and Air Canada are starting to require passengers to wear face coverings on all flights. In the case of Air France, this new policy coincides with recent French government guidelines.

Transit agencies such as New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) have also instituted similar initiatives. Indeed, all MTA riders have had to wear face coverings since April 17 as part of an executive order by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cruise giant Royal Caribbean is looking to trademark its own branded face mask (the “Seaface”) prior to tentatively resuming operations in June.

Plexiglass barriers

Various forms of clear plexiglass barriers can used to physically distance bus drivers from riders. Such have historically been used to protect them from assaults and other malicious behaviors.

Video: “Plexiglass barriers installed in (Cincinnati) Metro buses to help stop spread of coronavirus” by
LOCAL 12, YouTube.

Along with many transit authorities, Cincinnati Metro has setup plexiglass separators on all its buses between the operator’s area and the farebox.

Similarly, security checkpoints at airports are gradually implementing plexiglass shields between passengers and screeners; and also between passengers and ticket counter personnel.

Blocking seats

Deliberately blocking rider and passengers seats is another method to enforce social distancing.

For example, Delta Air Lines will limit seats in the following manner throughout June 30:

  • Limiting seating at 50% in first class.
  • Limiting seating at 60% in the main cabin and Delta Comfort+ as well as Delta Premium Select sections.
  • Blocking some window and aisle seats in all cabins setup with 1x2, 2x2 and 2x3 seating.
  • Blocking middle seats on all flights.

In April, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) started blocking off seats on buses with duct tape. It has since upgraded such with informative signs.

Toronto Transit Commission tweet on new seat blocking measure to enforce social distancing.

The signs are being installed on buses, streetcars and subways and inform that seats are being blocked off for the safety of riders.

Of course, limiting seating often comes with decreased profitability and such measures may have to be reconsidered once COVID-19 infections are drastically reduced.

Enforcing social distancing in the passenger transportation sector will come with serious challenges; yet the adaptability and creativity of organizations and individuals will find new ways to ensure we continue to go from point A to point B.

Picture of humanoids in “social distancing” stance
Picture of humanoids in “social distancing” stance
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

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Founder of Nuadox | Tech & Innovation Commentator | Digital Strategist | MTL | More about me>

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