Public transportation is not a large contributor in the spread of viral respiratory diseases, a new study suggests.
After reviewing national data for 121 cities, researchers found there was no link between bus or train ridership and mortality rates of influenza and pneumonia.
It comes as the public remains generally fearful of beginning to use trains and buses again amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Additonally, Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in New York City workers report being fearful of a second wave of COVID-19 after losing more than 100 employees to the disease.
Researchers at NYU looked at transportation ridership and influenza/pneumonia mortality rates in 121 cities between 2006 and 2015. Pictured: Passengers ride the New York City subway, August 2020
For every percent increase in mass transit ridership, the rate ratio of deaths decreased by a factor of 0.98, showing no connection between the two (above)
NYC MTA workers are fearful of a second-wave due to low mask compliance among employees and break rooms. Pictured: A contractor uses an electrostatic sprayer to disinfect subway cars in New York City to control the spread of COVID-19, July 2020
‘Small towns and rural counties are experiencing high rates of Covid 19 infection, yet they have no subway systems, and Los Angeles is a car city, not a subway city, yet the entire city is under siege from the virus,’ said study co-author Dr Mitchell Moss, director of the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation.
‘Frankly, the NYC subway is far safer than the Oval Office.’
For the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, the team looked at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data on death rates from influenza and pneumonia between 2006 and 2015.
They also examined surveys that measure the proportion of adults who commute for at least one hour per day on public transit in 121 cities across the US.
Results showed that, in 2015, influenza and pneumonia death rates ranged from 0.65 per 100,000 in Springfield, Massachusetts to 329 per 100,000 in Dayton, Ohio.
However, public transit ridership fell between 0.1 percent in Pueblo, Colorado to 57 percent in New York, New York.
Additionally, for every percent increase in city-level transit ridership, the rate ratio of influenza/pneumonia deaths decreased by a factor of 0.98.
Researchers say the data provide evidence that in transit-dependent cities like New York City, public transportation is not a significant factor in mortality rates for respiratory diseases.
This is likely because, although transit riders often ride in crammed train cars or buses, they generally do not speak to one another and try to avoid physical contact.
They team adds that this is very significant for the current coronavirus pandemic, in which people are fearful of riding mass transit.
‘Scientists believe that COVID-19 spreads in a very similar way to influenza,’ said Dr Sherry Glied, dean of NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
‘To the extent that’s true, this study, consistent with several others that have looked at COVID-19 in other countries, points to the possibility that public transit has not been an important contributor to COVID-19 spread.’
The new study comes as MTA officials have taken several steps to ensure the public that it is safe to ride again.
Subway ridership is down about 68 percent, bus ridership down about 49 percent and commuter rail ridership is down about 52 percent from 2019 monthly averages, MTA data show.
Millions of dollars have been spent cleaning and disinfecting trains, bused and high-touch point surfaces such as kiosks and turnstiles, and a $50 fine has been implemented for those who don’t wear a mask during their ride.
Nonetheless, MTA transit workers are still concerned about a second wave of the pandemic, which has already claimed lives of 128 staffers.
While riders have been wearing masks, workers have allegedly complained about a lack of mask compliance among their colleagues and crowded break rooms.
Gothamist reports that the MTA has offered rapid testing at some sites for employees or free tests at clinics.
The positivity rate for MTA workers is currently less than one percent, much lower than the city’s seven-day positivity rate of 4.98 percent.