Global Economy

London’s Covid-safe commute idea on alternative mass transportation mode: Open-air buses

A London-based company is offering an alternative mass transportation mode that addresses some fears about coronavirus infection risks on public transit: a commuter service using open-topped buses.

On-demand bus company Snap is currently testing a new offering that would ferry Londoners to and from work in some of the city’s 233 roof-less tourist buses. These are those doubledecker vehicles with an open-air upper deck, used in cities worldwide to ferry sightseers about on “hop on, hop off” routes. Most of the London fleet is parked due to an absence of visitors; Snap is hoping to redeploy the opentopped tourist buses as Covid-safe pop-up transportation for locals, extending the pandemic-era trend of outdoor living to public transport.

The service is still in development. Snap is currently going through a crowdsourcing process, taking details of people interested in the service to calculate which routes might have highest demand. Initial test journeys ran this week following the route of the London Underground’s Victoria Line, which runs across central London from northeast to southwest. Prices are expected to run at the same cost as an average tube journey — £3.30 ($4.19) — with multiple pick-up and drop off points for passengers but far fewer stops than the average bus. Snap estimates that it can run a viable service at that cost with passengers filling just a quarter of a bus’s usual capacity, a level that would make it possible for everyone to sit on the upper deck and maintain some distance from each other. Frequent cleanings after each trip would further mitigate risk.

The idea might help London with a current conundrum. Some people now working from home are thinking about the possibility of returning to their workplaces, but many are still anxious that if public transit services return to anything like pre-pandemic ridership levels, they risk becoming sites of widespread coronavirus infection. The UK government will stop advising against all but essential journeys by public transit on August 1.


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