Riding a bus, subway or rideshare? Here’s a look at safety measures adopted to combat COVID-19

From mask mandates to capacity limits, the largest public transit systems and ride share companies have new procedures

Consumer alerts

Jacob van Cleef

Former Consumer Watchdog, Associate, PIRG

More states are opening back up, so people are again traveling to work and going out to restaurants and movie theaters. Even though the safest course of action during the COVID-19 pandemic is to stay home, many Americans can’t or won’t do that.

As recently as 2019, many of us depended on public transportation to get around, taking 9.9 billion trips on public transportation, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Now, some people used to travelling that way are wondering if ridesharing companies and public transportation agencies are doing enough to keep passengers safe. 

Here’s a look at the policies — from mask mandates to capacity limits — that some of the largest public transit systems and companies say they have adopted.

Ridesharing apps:

Uber: The most popular ridesharing company in the United States, Uber has taken the pandemic seriously and implemented several policies intended to keep their drivers and riders safe. 

  • Masks were given to drivers free, and riders and drivers have to wear masks with a verification system being put in place by having the driver and riders each take a picture of themself wearing a mask. If either does not wear a mask, the trip can be cancelled at no charge. 

  • To maximize the distance between people in the car, riders are not allowed to sit in the front seat. 

  • And to make sure the drive is as clean as possible, Uber provided cleaning supplies to some (but not all) drivers and put together a safety checklist to complete before a driver can accept a customer.


Lyft: This ridesharing company also took the call to be safe seriously. 

  • Masks are mandatory for riders and drivers with free cancellations if either the driver or rider is not wearing a mask. 

  • As with Uber, Lyft riders are not allowed to sit in the front seat, to maximize distance from the driver. 

  • Before a rider can request a trip or a driver can accept a rider, both need to electronically sign health and safety commitments to follow guidelines intended to reduce COVID-19 spread. 

  • To make sure that drivers have access to masks and cleaning supplies, Lyft is selling them at cost to its drivers.


Public transportation:

Boston/ the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA):

  • MBTA has made it mandatory for everyone to wear masks. 

  • To reduce interactions with other people, the MBTA has put in barriers between drivers and riders, as well as designating separate doors for boarding and exiting the bus. 

  • Hand sanitizer is available for any riders who need it. 

  • Workers have increased the frequency of cleanings, so now, every bus gets thoroughly cleaned every day.


Chicago/ the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA):

  • The CTA has attempted to keep people traveling while being socially distanced and safe. 

  • Masks are mandatory for everyone. 

  • Signs and floor markings have been put in place to remind people to wear masks and to stay at least 6 feet apart, and CTA workers monitor the situation to stop overcrowding and keep everyone socially distanced. To keep riders distanced while in transport, the CTA is enforcing capacity limits on buses and trains, and dispatching additional buses on busy routes. 

  • In addition, CTA has implemented a 24/7 cleaning regime with 10 mobile teams cleaning the stations. Buses and trains are cleaned before being sent out each day, as well as between routes. Every night, 150 buses and 150 trains on rotation are deep cleaned with new cleaning methods. They use electrostatic sprayers to spread disinfectant evenly, including on the hard to reach areas. They use UV light to try to kill any viruses on surfaces. Lastly, they use an antimicrobial coating to create a protective layer intended to halt any microbe growth.


Columbus/ the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA):

  • COTA has made it mandatory for everyone to wear masks. 

  • They clean  multiple times a day. 

  • Buses have hand sanitizer for riders. 

  • To reduce possible interactions with COVID-19, all COTA employees must pass temperature checks every day, and buses can’t have more than 20 people onboard at once.


Houston/ the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County:

  • The MTA has mandated masks and 6-foot social distancing. 

  • To help keep people at a distance, they’ve limited seating to 50 percent of capacity, put up signs and made safety announcements to remind people to stay distanced, and rolled out extra buses on busy routes. 

  • All riders can access hand sanitizer. 

  • They test everyone’s  temperature tests when they enter a Metro facility or building

  • They put protective shields in place to separate drivers from riders. 

  • They now clean buses and trains daily, and train stations and bus stops more frequently. 


Los Angeles/ the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority:

  • Metro mandates wearing masks for everyone. 

  • Stations look different now. They have closed some entrances to stations to reduce the possible places of interactions and the number areas to clean. Also, they have addednew sanitation stations, signs and postings with ways to stay safe inside the stations. 

  • They are cleaning stations more regularly, and cleaning buses and trains at least once a day.

  •  Buses and trains have additional trip times to reduce overcrowding. 


New York City/ the Metropolitan Transit Authority:

  • The MTA provides free masks and hand sanitizer. People can buy PPE such as reusable face masks, gloves and sanitizing wipes from vending machines at 10 locations. Wearing a mask is mandatory. Subway stations have hand sanitizer dispensers and floor markers indicating safe distancing. 

  • There is no subway service between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. 

  • A new 24/7 cleaning regime has been implemented, so cleanings are done throughout the day, predominantly at end-of-the-line train stations and bus stops and at the end of the night. 

  • They have implemented new cleaning methods, including electrostatic sprayers to spread disinfectant evenly including the hard to reach areas, UV light to kill viruses on surfaces, and an antimicrobial coating to create a protective layer intended to halt any microbe growth. 

  • They have installed better air filters and will replace them every 36 days.


Philadelphia/ the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA):

  • SEPTA mandates masks for everyone. 

  • To reduce the number of close interactions that riders have with others, SEPTA has opened alternative exits, posted new decals to help people socially distance and limited ridership on buses and trains. 

  • SEPTA has also changed the way workers clean stations and vehicles. They clean buses and trains are twice a day, and stations around the clock. 

  • SEPTA closed parts of stations to reduce the amount of space that needs to be cleaned.


Phoenix/ the Valley Metro Regional Public Transportation Authority: 

  • Valley Metro mandates masks and makes them available at some locations. 

  • They clean buses and trains daily. A new mist cleaning system. They use a more thorough mist cleaning system on buses three times a week and on trains once a month.


Portland/ TriMet: 

  • TriMet made masks mandatory. 

  • They give riders free hand sanitizer and masks. 

  • To protect drivers, they have installed plastic barriers next to the driver’s seat.

  • They have reduced capacity on buses and trains and closed off some seats to maximize distances between passengers. 

  • They clean stations every day, and buses and trains every night. They do the nightly cleanings by hand, using a mist cleaner that cleans deeply throughout the vehicle.


San Francisco/ the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA):

  • The MTA mandated masks and made efforts to reduce overcrowding as much as possible. 

  • They have replaced trains with buses on all routes, and drivers can skip stops if the bus is too full.

  • They now begin the night schedule, which has less frequent trips, three hours earlier, to reduce unnecessary travel at night.

  • They have installed safety partitions next to the drivers. 

  • SFMTA has increased cleanings at stops, and clean the buses every night.

  • The Essential Worker Ride Home Program offers essential workers taxis for work at all hours of the day, up to 10 times a month and $70 per ride. If there is a personal emergency while at work, the city will reimburse a taxi trip home, up to $140 per ride. 


Seattle/ the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority:

  • Sound Transit made masks mandatory for everyone. 

  • In an attempt to dissuade unnecessary travel, they have cut back on the number of daily trips. 

  • Sound Transit regularly cleans buses and trains in depth.


Washington D.C./ the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority:


  • Metro requires everyone to wear a mask to ride public transit. 

  • They are cleaning more often and more intensely. 

  • To help essential workers travel at night, Metro is offering $6 subsidies for essential workers to get rides through Lyft.


Jacob van Cleef

Former Consumer Watchdog, Associate, PIRG