Jun 19, 2020 - Economy & Business

The subway is getting a bad rap during the coronavirus pandemic

New York City subway. Photo: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images
New York City subway. Photo: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Most people have been avoiding public transit if they can, but a new report in The Atlantic says there's no evidence subways and buses are to blame for coronavirus outbreaks.

Why it matters: Public transportation is essential to the resumption of normal economic activity in our cities, but surveys show people would prefer to drive their own car than risk being cooped up on a subway or bus with strangers who might infect them with the virus.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is telling people it's better to avoid transit and ride alone to work, if possible.

It's all overblown, according to the article's authors, including Janette Sadik-Khan, former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation.

  • Despite scary stories pegged to an MIT economist's report about New York's subway system, some of the biggest U.S. outbreaks have been in meat-packing plants and nursing homes, far away from public transit, they write.
  • Hard-hit cities like Milan, Tokyo or Seoul that have reopened their transit systems have not seen subsequent infection spikes.
  • Of note: In Asia, it's common for people to wear masks, which could help explain why Japan and Korea haven't seen new spikes.

Yes, but: There's still a lot we don't know about this virus, and it's too early to draw conclusions about how — and where — it spreads.

The bottom line: Until then, convincing Americans to get over their fears about public transit will be difficult.

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