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Am I an Asshole for Commuting to Work on the Bus or Train During Coronavirus?

Capitalism is the true asshole if you’re still required to go into work

There’s a whole lotta talk about “social distancing” right now, but I’m not sure if that means “don’t make out with strangers at clubs” or “don’t even glance at another human walking across the street from your third-floor apartment window.” Like, okay, maybe no hand shakes right now, but can I leave my house at all?

This week, we’ll be exploring the different scenarios why you might want or need to enter the public during the coronavirus pandemic, and determining an essential aspect for your consideration: Will doing this make me an asshole? 

In today’s segment, we’ll explore whether taking public transit makes you an asshole.

Going out in public if you don’t need to right now does make you kind of an asshole. That said, if you’re still required to go into work, you’re not the asshole here, capitalism is. Still, even if we don’t have a choice about going out in the world, we’re still free agents when it comes to mitigating the spread of germs. Does that mean you should find alternative, solo means of getting to work? 

Maybe, but you’re not an asshole either way. Public transit use is correlated with race and class. In major cities, Black and Hispanic residents are more than twice as likely to use public transit on a daily basis than white people. A 2010 report from the Department of Transportation found that the cost of transportation was the most common determining factor in the decision to use public transit, and the majority of rides were to and from work. 

Using public transit like busses or trains is by far the most economical means of getting about, saving an average of $10,000 per year compared to owning a car. It’s also far safer and more environmentally friendly — taking public transit reduces one’s risk of being in an accident by 90 percent, and generates only 10 to 20 percent of the greenhouse gasses per person per mile that individual vehicles produce. So no, taking public transit is decidedly not an asshole move, ordinarily. For many people, it’s simply not even a choice, and if their bosses are still calling them in, neither is going to work. 

If you regularly rely on public transit to get to work, then, what other options do you have? It’s unlikely you’re going to magically procure a vehicle. Not only are Ubers and Lyfts pricy, they also aren’t necessarily any safer, germ-wise, than the bus or subway since you’re in close proximity to others. Walking or biking are certainly preferred, but only if those are reasonable options. If you can walk to work, you should. (We’re still allowed to be outdoors while self-quarantining!) 

But let’s say you have no other options but to take public transit. There are a few ways you can mitigate risk to yourself and others. Public transit authorities across the country have made their own announcements regarding whether they will be maintaining their usual schedules, with most running as usual. In addition to that, though, most busses, trains and stations are being cleaned more frequently and thoroughly than before. 

Still, to avoid spreading your germs or picking up someone else’s, it’s recommended that you wash your hands or at least use hand sanitizer before and after touching public surfaces. If you aren’t able to do that immediately, be super careful not to touch your face. And of course, try to keep at least six feet away from other passengers (which, yeah, seems completely doable on the New York subway in rush hour, no problem).

Also, you really don’t need a mask. They’re useless unless you’re already sick, and I pray to God your employer is understanding enough to keep you home (with sick pay) if you’re not feeling well. 

So ultimately, no, you’re not an asshole at all if you still need to be taking public transit to work. You might be an asshole if you’re some sick freak coughing on seats and handles of subway cars all day for funsies, but hopefully you’re… not doing that?