The absence, for now, of a meaningful rush hour in most places reduces the need for larger fixed-route buses, he argues, and the technology gives operators more ability to avoid overfilling services to allow for distancing.
In Madrid, the company is operating a bus line connecting the city with two hospitals, with an on-demand service which will also allow the local government to carry out contact tracing by recording the movements of riders who later become sick and identifying who they shared the vehicle with.
The fall guy?
It might feel obvious that public transport would be a major site of Covid-19 infection, but recent studies carried out in Paris and Austria cast doubt on this assumption. Both found that among hundreds of case clusters, not one could be traced back to this source of infection.
The research, carried out between April and June, when ridership had fallen and fear of the virus was widespread in countries already in lockdown, suggests that with basic precautions, public transport need not be so widely feared, Janette Sadik-Khan, former New York transport commissioner, and her press secretary Seth Solomonow argued in a recent piece in The Atlantic.
“Residents would be rightly furious if their leaders restored cities to maximum traffic and increased car dependency – bringing back the same issues of congestion, pollution, inequity and lack of access as before the crisis – but providing even fewer transportation options to confront them with,” they said.
But none of that matters if people who have other options are already convinced public transport is too risky. A survey by market research firm Dynata found that frequent cleaning and enforcement of social distancing in carriages and on platforms were the most popular factors that would make rail commuters more comfortable getting back on the trains.
In the UK, which unlike other countries has declined to implement a national mask-wearing rule, public transport is one of the few venues where they must be worn.
Making the buses feel prestigious, spacious and safe is a matter of design as well as behaviour. Kwame Nyanning, chief of experience at London-based start-up Arrival, says that despite the industry’s financial woes, now is the perfect time for it to invest in his company’s shiny, high-tech electric buses.