Editor's Notebook: Welcome back to a different world

June 8, 2020
Post pandemic, actions will not be weighed against convenience or speed, but safety.

he COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be one of the greatest disruptors experienced in generations. Most locations in North America have entered a phased reopening with new limits on restaurants and other retail businesses. Some of us may still be working from home full time; some company travel restrictions, while eased, may not have been lifted completely and, for those of us with school-aged children at home, e-learning has concluded (thankfully).

For transit, the disruption has spread to every corner and has impacted the very basis of what the industry provides. For an industry that prides itself on being one of the safest modes of travel, its jarring to have riders question the safety of transit based on how close they may physically be to other people.

Short-term efforts by agencies across North America will focus on making riders and employees feel safe when they enter a transit system. All agencies have ramped up cleaning protocols and service levels are beginning to increase to support social distancing guidelines.

New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chief Innovation Officer Mark Dowd said the pandemic has created opportunities for new technologies to solve once-in-a-generation challenges. MTA is piloting a sanitization system using ultraviolet (UV) light on its subways, buses and facilities. The Central Ohio Transit Authority is disinfecting its vehicles with a microbe shield that is applied once a year and works by attracting and then electrocuting and rupturing a microbe’s negatively charged cell membrane. Kind of gross, but also kind of cool.

A less high-tech, but still innovative solution is Bay Area Rapid Transit’s plan to hand out personal hand straps to its riders. The straps can be used to travel and then can be brought home for sanitization purposes.

The simple yet effective technique of keeping one’s hands clean is being encouraged on systems, as well. San Diego Metropolitan Transit System has installed hand washing units at all 53 Trolley stations, plus the UTC Transit Center, and hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed on various systems including TriMet and Miami-Dade Transit.

There will be many bumpy spots on the road to recovery, but the industry’s level of commitment to making riders feel safe is providing a good framework on which to build a better future for when transit can welcome back the masses.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.