CDC Revise Awful COVID-19 Commuting Recommendations, But They’re Still Not Great
The Centers for Disease Control is no longer recommending that employers incentivize their workers to commute by car alone as businesses reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the agency’s revised guidelines still don’t do enough to protect workers from the novel coronavirus — *or *the myriad public health threats posed by our unsafe transportation network.
The original version of the agency’s workplace safety recommendations encouraged employers to offer workers who use public transportation “incentives to use forms of transportation that minimize close contact with others, such as offering reimbursement for parking for commuting to work alone or single-occupancy rides.”
The CDC have now amended the recommendation as follows https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/businesses-employers.html :
For employees who commute to work using public transportation or ride sharing, consider offering the following support:
- If feasible, offer employees incentives to use forms of transportation that minimize close contact with others (e.g., biking, walking, driving or riding by car either alone or with household members). - Ask employees to follow the CDC guidance on how to protect yourself when using transportation https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/using-transportation.html . - Allow employees to shift their hours so they can commute during less busy times. - Ask employees to wash their hands https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html as soon as possible after their trip.
The minor tweak came after major backlash from media outlets like Streetsblog https://usa.streetsblog.org/2020/05/29/feds-seek-incentives-to-encourage-driving-which-will-accelerate-the-other-pandemic-traffic-violence/ and leading transportation organizations like the National Association of City Transportation Officials, the American Public Transportation Association, and Smart Growth America.
But even the new-and-improved guidelines still don’t adequately address the safety needs of vulnerable road users — or the inequities disproportionately faced by people who are black, brown, and/or poor.
For one, the CDC still encourage employers to provide financial incentives *for every mode except transit use* — despite emerging evidence from East Asian countries like Korea https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/05/08/subways-trains-buses-are-sitting-empty-around-world-its-not-clear-whether-riders-will-return/ and Japan https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/japan-ends-its-covid-19-state-emergency that transit might still be safe during the pandemic, especially if networks undertake proper protocols, like frequent vehicle cleanings and supplying passengers with masks. The advisement threatens to starve transit networks further when fare collections are already at historic lows, rendering transit agencies unable to provide adequate service to the riders who have no choice but to remain. Low-income workers with long commutes, who generally cannot afford cars *or *get to work via active transportation modes, disproportionately rely on transit. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/06/long-commutes-are-awful-especially-for-the-poor/395519/
Providing employer-based financial incentives to bike or walk is great, but it won’t do much good if the many safety barriers to active transportation that walkers and bikers still face are not addressed. Of course, workplace leaders alone can’t fix those, but they can do their part, by leveraging their influence as a business community with government officials to support policies to end police harassment, brutality and killing — a significant barrier to the mobility of BIPOC https://chi.streetsblog.org/2020/06/03/police-have-always-limited-black-peoples-mobility-and-freedom-in-public-spaces/ — and implement Vision Zero http://visionzero.org/ policies, programs and infrastructure.