What does COVID-19 mean for shared mobility?
By: Calvin Thigpen, PhD, Director of Policy Research at Lime
Mauro Montevecchi, MD, Cardiologist at OSF HealthCare
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, regular travel patterns have been thrown into disarray. As travel begins to resume worldwide, people and cities are rethinking their transportation choices-- from their commutes, to errands, to reconnecting with friends and communities-- with an increased focus on how to stay safe. There are already concerning signs, though, that travelers are trading their public transit passes for the driver’s seat in a car out of concerns about COVID-19. If this shift continues, it will inevitably lead to increased congestion, air pollution, and carbon emissions, erasing some of the promising gains that cities had seen during this crisis.
In response, transportation planners and policymakers are trying to understand what this means for the communities they serve:
What does the emerging scientific evidence indicate are safe transportation options for travelers?
What can transit agencies and companies do to protect riders?
Fortunately, the urgency in identifying a solution to the global pandemic means that even a few months into the crisis, scientific evidence about the characteristics of the disease has already begun to appear. Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been identified and studied in a variety of settings, including a choir practice hall (CDC), a call center (CDC), a restaurant (CDC), and meat processing plants (CDC). When viewed in total, the evidence points to a common thread: the virus is spread primarily indoors (medRxiv), and airborne transmission has been identified as a more important pathway than surface transmission (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, CDC). As a recent study (medRxiv) put it definitively:
“The transmission of respiratory infections such as SARS-CoV-2 from the infected to the susceptible is an indoor phenomenon.”
Based on this evidence, the risk of contracting COVID-19 likely varies on different shared modes, like public transit, ridehailing, taxis, and micromobility. The scientific literature suggests that as an open-air mode that allows for social distancing, micromobility carries a much lower baseline risk of transmission than other shared modes. This is especially true given recent evidence that sunlight can rapidly inactivate the novel coronavirus on the types of surfaces common on scooters and bikes, like metal and plastic (Journal of Infectious Diseases). Guidelines from the World Health Organization stated the implications for transportation succinctly:
“Whenever feasible, consider riding bicycles or walking.
... Avoid sharing taxis."
Encouragingly, early evidence suggests that public transit has not been a source of COVID-19 outbreaks or clusters (The Atlantic). This positive signal suggests that the new mitigation measures implemented by transit agencies are working, including requiring drivers and passengers to wear masks as well as facilitating social distancing by measures like adapting scheduling, requiring rear boarding, and utilizing barriers and signage. In Japan, no outbreaks have been tied to public transit despite continued use by the public (Science), likely thanks to widespread mask use and cultural norms of not talking on transit vehicles. Similar data from France (Le Parisien) and Austria (Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety) has also identified zero instances of clusters originating in public transit, probably due to the extra precautions taken by operators and passengers.
We therefore examine other shared modes - micromobility and taxi/ridehailing - for what the scientific literature suggests are the levels of transmission risk on these modes.
Despite the low level of risk for outdoor, open-air modes like micromobility, operators and riders alike can do their part to further mitigate risk through a variety of measures, including more frequent and thorough vehicle cleanings, employee and rider education, and the use of PPE.
Lime has adopted a robust sanitization process and a standardized employee training program to implement scooter sanitization procedures consistently across all markets. Lime’s procedures follow CDC disinfection recommendations, and we only use disinfectants that meet approved standards for mitigating the coronavirus, such as the Tier 1 products recommended by the EPA. We place extra focus on frequently touched areas, such as handlebars, brakes, and throttles. Every time a Lime employee handles a scooter, they sanitize the scooter, which means Lime is regularly cleaning scooters both in our warehouses and in the field.
We know education is an important factor in upholding these sanitization standards. So, before we resume operations in any city, all Lime employees must complete several training courses on the new sanitization procedures, social distancing protocols, and how to appropriately use the personal protection equipment (PPE) we provide. In addition, we have implemented sanitization procedures focused on high traffic areas in our daily operations, including our vans and warehouse doorknobs, and mechanic stations.
We understand sanitization is only one component in addressing rider and community health concerns around shared surfaces. We are committed to rider safety education to ensure riders know how best to protect themselves. We consistently communicate how Lime is working to keep our riders and teams safe by following the latest health and safety guidance, sharing this information with our riders through in-app messaging, hang tags on the scooter, our dedicated safety website, rider emails, and social media. We also advise the rider to wash their hands or use at least 70% alcohol-based hand sanitizer when arriving at their destination.
As travelers return to public transit post-COVID, Lime looks forward to continuing to serve as a robust first and last-mile connection for public transit trips. In the meantime, as we navigate and emerge from this crisis, Lime is leading the way, helping to redefine the future of transportation by connecting people and cities in new ways that reflect our new normal. We are committed to working with municipalities to help serve local travelers’ mobility needs, ensuring that safe, affordable, sustainable transportation is available. We’re dedicated to providing the essential mode of transportation for our changed world, and working to achieve a vision of people-first cities and avoid a future where cities are overwhelmed by car congestion and the equity, environmental, and economic costs that come with it.
We are heartened by the steps taken by hundreds of cities around the world, such as Oakland, Denver, Auckland, Paris, and Milan, to prioritize pedestrian and active transportation safety by investing in slow streets and protected bike lanes (NACTO COVID-19 Transportation Response Center, NACTO Summary of Influence of Bicycle Infrastructure). Likewise, evidence from our riders’ trips shows that they are taking longer trips than before the pandemic (Streetsblog USA), suggesting that riders are using scooters for errands, work, and other essential trips.
Interested in learning more? Lime collaborated with Dr. Mauro Montevecchi to write a white paper summarizing the scientific evidence and implications for shared modes of transportation.