Although the most effective way of slowing the spread of coronavirus is to stay home, that may not be an option for everyone. If you do need to be out and about, here’s what you need to know about getting around within your community, either by public transit, Uber or by car, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The situation is changing rapidly, so be sure to also check the latest advice from Health Canada and local public health agencies.
Lines of cars waited outside gas stations in Toronto last week as gas prices suddenly dropped to an average of $0.90 a litre in the city, according to the price aggregator GasBuddy. As of March 16, the price is down again to $0.84.
In Vancouver, gas is $1.19 a litre, down $0.27 compared to this time last year. In Montreal it’s a similar story, with the price of gas down $0.30 a litre to $0.96.
Across Canada, the average price of regular gas is down to $0.94 a litre, which is $0.23 less than where it was this time last year.
“There’s a couple of factors at play here, but of course coronavirus is a big underlying reason,” said Allison Mac, a petroleum analyst at GasBuddy. The virus is reducing demand for oil, she said. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Russia failed to reach an agreement to reduce oil output.
“Until they can reach an agreement to lower production we’re going to see prices continue to drop,” Mac said.
This week, drivers in Toronto could see prices as low as $0.80, she estimated.
Car-sharing and ride hailing services are taking new steps to keep drivers and users safe.
Although you can get COVID-19 by touching a surface that has the virus on it – and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes – this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Nevertheless, Uber and Lyft will provide drivers with disinfectants to keep their vehicles clean. Uber has warned, however, that supplies of cleaning products are very limited at the moment.
Both companies may temporarily suspend the accounts of drivers confirmed to have contracted COVID-19. Drivers or delivery people in that situation, or those who are asked to self-isolate by a public health authority, will receive financial assistance.
An Uber spokesperson declined to comment on whether ridership had been affected as a result of virus.
The private car-sharing service Turo issued tips and new guidelines to users last week, saying people could cancel upcoming trips because of COVID-19 without penalty.
Communauto, the Montreal-based car-sharing service, communicated new safety guidelines to users this week, a company spokesperson said via e-mail. Communauto’s shared vehicles are cleaned regularly, but, “we would never be able to clean them frequently enough to replace the need for users to have adequate behavior,” the spokesperson said.
As Prime Minster Justin Trudeau urged all Canadians to stay home as much as possible, some jurisdictions have begun to recommend avoiding public transit during peak hours.
In Quebec, the provincial government advised people to adjust their schedules to avoid crowds on public transit during rush hours.
Ottawa’s transit agency posted the same advice today. In addition, public buses in Ottawa will only board passengers through the rear doors and drivers won’t accept cash fares in order to maintain social distancing.
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) asked all transit customers to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in its March 16 update. “If you feel sick, stay home,” the statement read. This is a departure from last week’s message that riding public transit posed a low risk of exposure to the virus.
The TTC’s free St. Patrick’s Day rides planned for March 17 have been cancelled, “in order to support ongoing public health efforts around social distancing,” the agency said.
GO Transit will temporarily reduce train and bus service, beginning March 18, in anticipation of an expected reduction in ridership due to the pandemic. The UP Express to Pearson airport will run a reduced schedule too, with trains running every 30 minutes.
One survey found Canadians are already switching their travel habits from public transit to either staying home or relying more on their cars. “Approximately 30 per cent of Canadians report decreased usage of public transportation (subways, buses and light rail) as a direct result of COVID-19,” according to a survey conducted March 6-8 by Northstar Research, a market research consultancy.
Public transit agencies across the country have stepped up cleaning efforts in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In addition to routine cleaning, the TTC and Metrolinx are instituting additional disinfection measures on vehicles and at stations. Since late January, all TTC vehicles have been going through a disinfection process every night.
Transit agencies in Vancouver and Montreal have similarly increased the frequency of cleaning for vehicles and stations.
Health Canada is advising community planners to prepare for a, “reduction in public services like transit” due to COVID-19.
Temporary work stoppages by employees concerned about the virus have occurred at the TTC and the regional travel agency GO. A TTC spokesperson told the Globe and Mail that the agency has planned for the possibility of more work stoppages.
In New York City, which has 463 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of March 16, officials have advised commuters to avoid crowded trains and buses by simply waiting for the next one or staggering the work day to avoid rush hour. “Bike or walk to work if you can,” the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, tweeted on March 8.
For symptomatic individuals suspected of having, or known to have, COVID-19, Health Canada recommends isolation. Is such cases, a public health authority will direct the individual to not take public transportation such as buses, subways or taxis, among other measures.
To reduce the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19, Health Canada recommends everyone – no matter what mode of transportation you choose – should use good hygiene, which means washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, coughing or sneezing into your arm and avoiding touching your face.
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