Slowing the spread of COVID-19: Review of “Social distancing” interventions deployed by public transit in the United States and Canada

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - bus, mode - subway/metro, mode - rail, place - north america, planning - personal safety/crime, operations - capacity


Social-distancing, COVID-19 transit interventions, Pandemic, Engineering controls for coronavirus


This paper presents a review of social distancing measures deployed by transit agencies in the United States and Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic and discusses how specific operators across the two countries have implemented changes. Challenges and impacts on their operations are also provided.

Social distancing is one of the community mitigation measures traditionally implemented during influenza pandemics and the novel coronavirus pandemic. Research has shown that social distancing is effective in containing the spread of disease. This is applicable to the current situation with the novel coronavirus, given the lack of effective vaccines and treatments in the United States and Canada in the first eight months of the pandemic. Moreover, social distancing is particularly useful in settings where community transmission is substantial.

Directives for social distancing were issued in several states and public transit operators were charged with how to provide for physical distance of six feet between passengers on their property including physical infrastructure such as station buildings and rolling infrastructure (rolling stock) including trains, subway cars and buses. Operational changes were also required due to physical distancing, e.g. adding train cars to provide for opportunities to physically distance on the train. Examples of some measures discussed in this research includes taping off every other seat on buses, increasing the total length of trains by adding cars, separating bus drivers from passengers with plastic sheeting, rear door boarding, etc. This research also analyzes long-term impacts for transit operators and challenges to encourage passengers to return to public transit after lockdown requirements ordered by government officials are lifted. A section on the policies that are being explored by government to continue to sustain public transportation is also included.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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