Staying safe on transit: a guide to getting to UIC for fall semester

Prior to the pandemic, about half of the UIC and UI Health community traveled to campus on public transportation. With many people still working and learning at home, we know that there will be fewer people on campus on any given day. However, if you’re one of the people who took transit to campus and want (or need) to keep doing so, we have assembled the following information to let you know what the university, city and transit agencies are doing to ensure your safety, and what is expected and required of you as a public transit rider.

How risky is riding public transportation?
The stations and vehicles that make up the public transportation system are part of the Chicago community. So, as long as there is community spread in Illinois, there is some risk to riding public transit. However, research from around the world suggests that very few infections occur on transit, and that with distancing and masks, the risks posed by riding transit are not higher than other indoor spaces like restaurants.

Our collective understanding of coronavirus is constantly evolving, but for now, here is what the science tells us:

  • In a subway car, HVAC systems ventilate the cabin by pulling air from outside and recycling some air from within the cabin. The rate at which all the air in the cabin is replaced with new air can be up to 20 times per hour; in a conventional office setting, air is exchanged between six and eight times per hour. This rapid exchange rate diminishes the chance of prolonged exposure to the virus.
  • In August, the New York Times reported that public transportation was not linked to any infections in Tokyo. In Paris, 386 infection clusters were identified between early May and mid-July, and four of those clusters were found to have originated on public transit. ell).
  • Research from Austria has similarly shown that none of the 355 case clusters identified in April and May were traceable to riding transit.
  • A July Scientific American article stated that the threat from increased particulate emissions from extra driving posed a greater danger than disease spread on public transit.
  • In July, Mass Transit Mag reported that the Denver Regional Transportation District has not identified any clusters of cases in riders or operators.
  • An analysis of contact tracing data showed that only 4% out of 1,300 virus hospital admissions in May had used public transportation, per an August article in Tech Times..
  • In June, Science News published an analysis that showed that in Seoul, South Korea, only one cluster — three individuals — originated from bus travel.

How is UIC helping to keep me safe?
UIC has had a series of conversations with the CTA to ask for certain safety protocols (stickers indicating 6 feet of distance on platforms, for example) and to discuss best practices for ensuring that staff and students can get to campus safely.

If you have questions about alternate commutes to UIC or would like advice on how to try a new route, you can contact for one-to-one counseling on the best way to get to campus. A commute counselor can help you find the best public transit option; find potential carpoolers in your neighborhood; and can give you turn-by-turn bicycle instructions so you can find the most comfortable route from your neighborhood to campus.

What are transit agencies doing to ensure rider safety?
The CTA has implemented a comprehensive safety protocol that they have shared with riders at The highlights of their program include:

  • Enforcing social distancing on buses (and running additional buses on busy routes to ensure that social distancing is feasible)
  • Requiring face coverings
  • Making contactless payment available
  • Setting passenger limits on buses and trains
  • Engaging in real-time camera crowd monitoring
  • Installing signage in stations and on vehicles to promote social distancing
  • Placing decals on station floors
  • Providing routine cleaning of vehicles before and while in service as well as routine deep cleans
  • Employing electrostatic sprays periodically to all vehicles, along with UV cleaning technology
  • Applying antimicrobial surface coating
  • Distributing ‘Stay Safe’ kits that included a mask and sanitizer during the spring and early summer

The CTA has been reviewing and improving their cleaning protocols to reflect best practices and will continue to do so as the pandemic progresses and we move toward Phase 5 of Reopen Illinois. 

Metra has implemented a similarly comprehensive set of safety protocols to ensure rider safety. They have introduced electrostatic sprayers and deep cleaning schedules to ensure that trains are as safe as possible (similar to the CTA). They also have installed hand sanitizer, emphasized their touchless payment systems (to reduce exposure from conductors and via high-touch surfaces) and have made changes to improve fresh air exchange and to filter air within their vehicles.

Pace Bus has worked to ensure rider safety by implementing a daily deep-cleaning and sanitizing regime, promoting social distancing, and waiving fees for medical personnel.

Divvy Bikes are an excellent way to get around, especially since the bikes are available all winter (when they are outfitted with super-fat winter tires). Divvy has established a disinfecting regime for high-touch surfaces and has been working with the Chicago Department of Health to ensure that it is taking appropriate precautions during the pandemic.

What can I do to keep myself safe?
When using public transit, stay safe by wearing a face covering or mask. The CTA, Metra and Pace are all requiring riders to wear masks in stations and on vehicles. Wash or sanitize your hands before and after riding and do your best to avoid touching your face while riding. Practice social distancing and give other riders as much physical space as possible.

Check before you ride: all of the Chicago transit agencies have had to make changes to their service provision and may not run on exactly the same schedule as usual – the Ventra app can help you plan your journey, as can monitors around UIC that tell you when trains and buses are scheduled to arrive. You may also consider traveling during off-peak times, when trains are less busy (but also may not run as often).

You also can help stem the spread of the virus by staying home when you are unwell.

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