What Safe Travel in Metro Areas Looks Like During COVID-19

What does safe travel look like in the age of a pandemic? This is how major cities are getting back to day-to-day commuting, one Lysol wipe at a time.

Keeping the spread of COVID-19 under control has been a challenge unlike anything the modern world has seen in recent years. Since being declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020 by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the virus has crippled multiple economies to the point of a difficult return— restaurants and music venues have struggled and closed, Broadway and the West End have drawn their curtains, and public transportation in major cities have had a large source of their income (daily ridership) significantly cut.

Public transportation has had to adapt to the world’s “new normal” in a particularly unique way. While there was a dramatic decrease in the number of commuters during the first few months of quarantining, at the same time, cities like New York City, London, Venice, Madrid, and others maintained their status as major transportation hubs thanks to essential workers. Nurses, doctors, pharmacists, EMTs, delivery people, and others, whose necessary jobs couldn’t be done from home, were still taking public transportation to their place of work while the rest of the working world settled indoors. As a result, public transportation had to adapt to serving those who were still riding trains, buses, and ferries. How so? By keeping these modes of transportation as sanitized as possible.

Subway Worker Cleaning Train (Moscow)
A subway worker cleans the train during the disinfection procedure at the depot Sviblovo in Moscow, Russia, on Oct. 22, 2020. Image via CHINE NOUVELLE/​SIPA/​Shutterstock.

With commuting now resuming on a larger scale as COVID-19 cases continue to fluctuate, what will safe travel look like in the age of a pandemic? Here’s how major cities are adjusting to the “new normal.”


How Short-term and Long-term Travel Has Changed During COVID-19

Traveling as the world adapts to living alongside COVID-19 has come with its own set of risks, according to the CDC. Their regularly updated “Travel during the COVID-19 Pandemic” webpage plainly states that “Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19” and that “staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.” It’s a fact that’s easier said than done.

Long-term Modes of Travel
Long-term modes of travel, like flying on a plane, have had to utilize heavy-duty ventilation systems to lessen the risk of spreading COVID-19. Image via Cavan Images.

Essential workers didn’t experience quarantine and working from home in the way that many others did. Because of their continued use of public transportation, everyday travel has had to change for the safer and more sanitary. Subway systems—which, depending on the city, aren’t regularly cleaned—have had to be disinfected on a set schedule. Rideshares like Lyft, Uber, and taxis have had to cut back on how many customers are allowed to ride in one car. Medical face masks are now a must when traveling. Public transportation employees have also had to keep a watchful eye on who entered a subway station or a cab to keep themselves safe from being infected.

Taxi Driver (Moscow)
A taxi driver in Moscow wearing a protective mask for safety against the new coronavirus. Image via Luciano Spinelli.

For long-term modes of travel, like flying on a plane or taking an extended train ride, employees unfamiliar with a certain technology have had to learn more about them: heavy duty filtration and ventilation systems, which have to be up-to-date and working smoothly to keep chances of spreading COVID-19 low. It’s a reality that’s occurred slowly and become secondhand. Whether traveling across town or across an ocean, traveling doesn’t look like it did in March, and it won’t for a long time.


What Do New Safety Measures Look Like While Traveling in a Pandemic?

Traveling safely has become a top priority as cities begin to reopen during the pandemic. With more children returning to in-person learning at school and more adults returning to work in offices, ridership on rapid transit systems has slowly begun to increase again. Traveling during a pandemic, though, has a new look, and it comes in the form of new signage in stations and airports, hours of sanitation, and a reduction in service.

The overnight deep cleaning of trains has become the norm in subway stations around the world, with trains in New York City receiving the type of attention to detail it’s famously lacked. The city’s 24-hour subway service also halted in May so that train cars could receive proper cleaning between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Buses in cities like Los Angeles and Boston became free for a time due to the pandemic, with riders entering and exiting the bus through the rear. Posters reminding riders to wear medical face masks, carry hand sanitizer, and stand six feet apart from other riders now decorate traveling hubs. Stickers further encouraging social distancing now appear on subway platforms. Commuters also don’t have to look far to find information on where to get tested for COVID-19.

Globally, public transportation slowed, notably in planes. The frequency of commercial flights has consistently remained low since the pandemic began. Commuters are also encouraged to remain at home if they’re sick in any way.

Worker Installing Precautions
An MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority) employee installs signs warning passengers to take precautions in helping to avoid spreading the coronavirus at the Alewife Train in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Image via CJ GUNTHER/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock.

Safety measures, in their many forms, are set in place to keep commuters as safe as possible. Traveling in the midst of a pandemic is a reality for millions of people globally. The presence of safety precautions while traveling is a sign to essential workers and commuters that all are set in place with them in mind. 


How Do We Safely Travel Post-COVID-19?

Safe, everyday travel within cities has largely been accomplished during the pandemic. Under specific COVID-19 guidelines put in place by numerous governments, domestic and international travel has also been done safely. Self-quarantining (usually for two weeks) and required COVID-19 testing have aided in people being able to fly to different cities and countries. But, even as society begins to travel again with COVID-19 remaining a threat, questions about the future of the travel industry are on the rise.

The Carnival Magic Cruise Ship
The Carnival Magic cruise ship arrives to repatriate crew members in Dubrovnik, Croatia, on May 20, 2020, after weeks of being stranded at sea because of COVID-19. Image via STRINGER/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock.

Crowds are predicted to shrink at major spots of interest, predicts The Washington Post. Traveling abroad may become more expensive, and large scale events will have attendees cautious. Cruise ships, predicts The New York Times, may have difficulty going forward because of the risk of infection aboard a ship alone at sea. Family vacations will either be shorter or nonexistent due to job loss, and perks from airlines and hotels will increase in an attempt to win customers back.

Woman Checks Temperatures
Woman checks the temperature of passengers to help curb the spread of COVID-19 at a bus stop in Quezon City, Philippines. Image via Aaron Favila/​AP/​Shutterstock.

With the future of travel in question regarding post-COVID-19, it all comes down to “time will tell.” In the meantime, as the world heads in that direction, the mindset of “safety first” on the ground and in the air will come first.


Cover image via Aaron Favila/​AP/​Shutterstock.

Find more of this year’s top stories in these photo tours from the Shutterstock Editorial archives: