Commuting During a Pandemic

As people begin to return to the workplace, they must find ways to reduce their COVID-19 risk while commuting. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance for best practices when commuting. A local transit partner, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is a great online resource too, and it has been updating its website frequently.  And you can register to get up-to-the-minute updates!


In particular, the CDC recommends traveling either alone or with someone you live with whenever possible.


Solo commuting is the safest option

The CDC’s latest guidance suggests that avoiding public transportation is the best bet when it comes to preventing the transmission of the virus.  They recommend biking, walking, or driving your own car.  Obviously, riding a bus or train or even carpooling with non-family members involves a long time spent in close quarters, which is something we are NOT supposed to be doing during the pandemic.


The CDC’s recommendation to travel alone has been controversial though, since it flies in the face of pre-COVID standards to reduce solo travel and its environmental impacts. Some experts fear this change in policy will lead to heavy traffic congestion, an increase of carbon emissions, and added stress for commuters, costing both time and money.


Making Your Commute as Safe as Possible


No matter how you travel to work, there are some basic guidelines to follow for increasing your safety. 


  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol before and after your trip.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes, throw used tissues in the trash, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after you cough or sneeze.
  • Maintain at least 6 feet between yourself and other people who don’t live in your household.
  • Wear a cloth face covering when you aren’t able to maintain physical distance between yourself and others. Wearing a mask on public transportation signals to others that you’re trying to keep the community safe in addition to yourself.
  • Stay home when you’re sick or have been near someone who has COVID-19.
  • Limit your travel if you’re older or have a disability or underlying health condition that puts you at greater risk.


Guidelines for Public Transportation


While traveling alone might be the best option in an ideal world, the CDC has altered their recommendations to reflect the fact that not everyone will be able to do so. BART has stepped up its cleaning practices during the pandemic, using hospital grade cleaners and all the often-touched places in stations are wiped down frequently throughout the day. 


If you are using public transportation or ride sharing in order to get to your job, follow the basic guidelines as listed above and add the following, as relevant to your mode of commuting.

  • Avoid touching things. Make use of touchless payment methods and no-touch trash cans and doors whenever possible. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer as soon as possible after touching any frequently touched surfaces.
  • Practice physical distancing. Travel during non-peak hours, if possible. (BART in the Bay Area has lots of great information online to help you see when cars are less crowded)  Put at least 6 feet between yourself and other people. Follow any physical distancing markers like floor decals or signs that have been designated by your local transit authority.
  • Practice good hand hygiene. Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer as needed.
  • Improve ventilation. If you’re in your own vehicle or a passenger in a ride share or taxi, try to improve the ventilation by opening windows or setting the air ventilation or air conditioning on non-recirculation mode.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces. Use disinfecting wipes to clean any frequently touched surfaces prior to use.  


The BART website publishes a lot of information to keep users aware of the best practices for using public transportation safely.  They have implemented 15 new steps during the pandemic, and the main safeguards are:

  1. High levels of cleaning
  2. Mandatory mask wearing — many stations will have masks available, if needed.
  3. Running longer trains so people can spread out
  4. Schedule is currently every 30 minutes but can change to every 15 minutes as needed
  5. Personal hand straps — BART will offer personal hand straps for riders to use and take home for cleaning after each trip.  A limited supply will be handed out as a surprise giveaway inside some stations to welcome riders back.  The hand straps are available for purchase for $5 plus tax on BART’s online store, by phone order by calling 510-464-7136, and in person at the Customer Service window at Lake Merritt Station (Monday-Friday 7:30 am–4:45pm).
  6. Increased and very visible signage inside stations regarding all the safety rules.
  7. Data Transparency — BART will continue to post daily ridership numbers at showing what percentage ridership is at compared to Pre-COVID-19 ridership. During the first part of recovery, this will help reassure riders there is no crowding. We’ve launched crowding charts that show train car loading data based on the number of riders on a specific train and how on average those riders can spread out among the cars. The charts are posted weekly at and can be used as a planning tool.
  8. Industry Ventilation Best Practices — BART will continue to explore new technologies used by transit systems across the world in response to COVID-19.  For example, BART is evaluating a variety of new cleaning procedures such as ultraviolet disinfecting to determine if new methods are safe, won’t cause damage, and are more effective and efficient than current practice.  Currently, the ventilation on BART cars is 80% recycled and 20% fresh. The recirculated air is filtered prior to being dispersed through the window frame. The air in each rail car is fully replace fifty times per hour. BART is currently assessing HEPA and MERV 14 filters for cars and testing UV lighting in HVAC duct work of train cars to kill viruses in the air flow. 


As with all things COVID, it’s important to make good decisions about your commute. Of course, if you work from home or from a local flexible workspace (Office Evolution Walnut Creek is mine) then you can avoid a long commute entirely. Stay safe and healthy, and please wear your mask!



All CDC data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit their coronavirus hub and follow their live updates page for the most recent information on the COVID-19 outbreak.

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