Congressional Science Policy Initiative

Committee hearing resource | House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

                                  Source: House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Send in your ideas to help Congress examine how to protect transportation workers and passengers from COVID-19

Engage, and take action! If you have a question or idea you think lawmakers should raise with witnesses during this hearing, or you would like to be a part of FAS’ community to contribute your expertise, kindly scroll down and submit via the form below. Or scroll down to learn more about the issues.

Tragically, the US has surpassed 400,000 deaths from COVID-19 as the country continues to grapple with the pandemic. One of many priorities is to develop policies that most effectively protect transportation workers and passengers from COVID-19.

Here’s your chance to inform the national policy discussion on this issue.

On Thursday, February 4th, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is holding a hearing to question public health specialists and representatives of the transportation industry.

The Committee wants to hear your thoughts on the interplay between what has been learned about how COVID-19 spreads and traveling by plane, rail, or bus, what personal protective equipment is necessary for transportation workers and passengers, the difference in risk faced by passenger-facing workers and those who transport freight, or the impacts of COVID-19 on transportation workers, passengers who rely on public transit, and their families, among other issues.

This website gives you an opportunity to tell Congress what issues should be discussed during this critical hearing. You can submit questions that lawmakers should ask the witness (sample questions below), personal stories about your experiences related to this issue, or your general thoughts on how Congress can address this issue.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing: Protecting Transportation Workers and Passengers from COVID: Gaps in Safety, Lessons Learned and Next Steps
Thursday, February 4th, 2021 at 11:00am ET

Professor David Michaels, PhD, MPH, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Milken Institute School of Public Health, The George Washington Unviersity

Ms. Sara Nelson, International President, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA

Mr. Lewie Pugh, Executive Vice President, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA)

Mr. Ismael Rivera, Bus Operator for Lynx and Member of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1596, Orlando, FL

Professor William P. Bahnfleth, PhD, PE, FASHRAE, FASME, FISIAQ, Professor of Architectural Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University

The Honorable Joe Buscaino, Councilman, Los Angeles City Council, and Past President, National League of Cities, on Behalf of National League of Cities

Evidence-based sample questions lawmakers could ask witnesses. Please share yours for lawmakers.

More sample questions will be added as objective contributions are received from the expert community. Kindly submit your idea via the form below. Last updated Wednesday 2/3/2021.

The airborne nature of COVID-19 transmission

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that “COVID-19 can sometimes be spread by airborne transmission.” Airborne transmission of COVID-19 is a particularly high risk in indoor spaces with poor ventilation, where small, virus-carrying droplets can be expelled by an infected individual, float and build up in the air, and get breathed in by others.

What is being done in your industries to reduce the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19? What still needs to be done? How can the federal government help?

Public transit during the pandemic

Many people, including essential workers, rely on public transit. According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology Medical, while using public transit “is riskier than commuting by foot or by bike, it’s probably much safer than going to the gym or dining inside a restaurant.” MIT Medical’s piece goes on to note that the risk of contracting COVID-19 when using public transit depends on both ridership levels and the rate of COVID-19’s spread in the community.

How carefully are ridership and COVID-19 community spread being tracked by transit agencies, and how are transit workers and passengers being alerted to increases in either ridership or community spread, and protected from COVID-19?

Air travel and COVID-19

There are many considerations for protecting passengers and crew when it comes to traveling by air. Many experts contend that “airlines should be enforcing both social distancing policies — like leaving middle seats open — and mask wearing” during flights. This would reduce the chance of people coming into contact with an individual infected with the coronavirus. Professor Qingyan Chen at Purdue University told the New York Times that “fewer passengers means fewer patients and by keeping the middle seat open airlines might remove 40 percent of the risk.”

Should airlines be keeping middle seats open? Why or why not? What best practices should airlines be following during the pandemic?

Ventilation in public transportation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend increasing ventilation in enclosed spaces to dilute any virus-carrying particles that are in the air. This is especially important for public transportation, as subway trains and buses by nature are enclosed and are used by many people throughout the day. There are already pilot programs underway to improve air filtration and ventilation in subway systems, including one in DC.

Should these pilot programs be expanded to other public transportation systems across the country? What could the federal government do to help?

Barriers in public transportation

Physical barriers have become a widely used tool during the COVID-19 pandemic to mitigate the spread of illness. Barriers do have several benefits, such as blocking large respiratory droplets (but not airborne particles), supporting social distancing when it is difficult to maintain separation, and causing minimal disruption to normal practices in many workplaces. These physical barriers can be beneficial in public transportation as well.

What are best practices for installing, cleaning, and maintaining physical barriers that protect drivers and passengers?

Commonly touched surfaces in buses and trains

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend routinely disinfecting highly-touched surfaces to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Given that public transportation has a large number of these types of surfaces, it can be difficult and expensive to properly clean them all.

Would providing personal hand straps for riders to use on buses and trains be part of the solution for this? Please explain.

Sanitization methods in transit vehicles

Properly disinfecting highly-touched surfaces can be costly for struggling public transit systems, as well as labor intensive. The New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) estimates that their current cleaning program will cost hundreds of millions of additional dollars over what the organization would normally spend.

Are surface sanitization stations, disinfecting wands, or disinfecting robotics feasible for implementation in transit vehicles, stops and stations? Which are the most effective and what are the costs associated with these solutions? What other sanitation measures do you recommend?

Temperature checks for transit workers and passengers

One method that is commonly used to screen for whether someone has possibly contracted COVID-19 is a temperature check. However, research is now showing that these checks may not be the best indicator of infection, especially since a large proportion of those with COVID-19 have either no or very mild symptoms. In addition, it is estimated that roughly half of COVID-19 cases do not present with a fever. Nevertheless, temperatures could be a helpful tool if used in concert with other screening and testing methods.

In your opinion, is it advisable to require temperature checks in transit stations or vehicles, or are there more effective steps that should be taken?

Various methods to protect workers and passengers from COVID-19

Public transit systems are implementing several different types of modifications to protect their workers and riders from the spread of COVID-19. These methods include physical barriers, new air filtration systems, and increased cleaning regimens.

When it comes to vehicle design modifications, how should public transit prioritize these different mitigation methods: (1) distancing and/or physically separating passengers from each other and transit workers, (2) changing out or cleaning the air in the cabin, or (3) keeping shared surfaces clean or reducing contact? Based on the current state of knowledge of COVID-19 transmission, is one of these more important to emphasize than others to keep riders and workers safe? Does this prioritization vary at all based on the type of transit?

Follow-up: Within each general strategy – distancing/separating, cleaning/exchanging air, or reducing touch/sanitary surfaces – what are the methods with highest impact, and best practices for vehicle design modifications? Do the methods vary based on the types of transit?

Humidity and airborne transmission

Dr. Akiko Iwasaki, an expert on immunity and viruses, wrote recently about her and her colleagues’ petition to have the World Health Organization make recommendations on the relationship between airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and humidity.

What is being done in the transportation industry to account for humidity as a factor in viral transmission? What assistance would the transportation industry need from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?

Prioritizing transit workers for vaccination

Transit workers have a high risk of exposure to COVID-19 and are unable to work from home. A study of New York City’s bus and subway workers in October of last year found that almost a quarter reported contracting COVID-19 and 90 percent are afraid of getting sick at work.

This exposure also puts transit workers’ families at risk. To combat further spread, there have been attempts to vaccinate the older relatives of workers that are a high risk of exposure in certain areas.

In your experience, are transit workers in your industries being prioritized for vaccination? In addition, do you think that efforts to vaccinate transit workers’ at-risk family members should be more widely replicated?

Supporting public transportation during the pandemic

Public transportation is vital to connect people with their jobs, education, medical care, and child care, as well as other important services. This is especially true for disadvantaged populations and studies have shown that access to affordable transportation is essential for getting out of poverty. Due to the pandemic, public transit systems have been devastated by decreased ridership and increased costs for transporting passengers safely.

What can Congress do to ensure that public transportation systems across the country have the means to safely provide such an important service?

Effects of car dependency during the pandemic

With public transportation struggling in the COVID-19 pandemic, and considering people’s wariness of returning to riding on buses and subways, some experts are concerned that the pandemic may increase individuals’ use of personal vehicles. The increase in the use of cars would likely lead to a negative effect on the environment.

A YouGov-Cambridge survey of 26,000 people in 25 countries showed that, while an overwhelming majority accepted that humans are responsible for climate change, most also said that they would use their car more after the pandemic than before.

How can we ensure that people’s safety concerns about public transportation do not lead to an increase in car dependency, and negatively impact our environment?

Your question could be here!

Your question could be here!

Nonpartisan analysis and research

Quick reads

The Critical Role of Federal Partnerships with States and Local Governments During COVID-19 – GAO Watchblog post

How Prepared are Airports and Airlines to Handle a Pandemic? – GAO Watchblog post

CARES Act Payroll Support to Air Carriers and Contractors – CRS Insight brief

U.S. Travel and Tourism and COVID-19 – CRS Insight brief

Emergency Funding for Public Transportation Agencies Due to COVID-19 – CRS Insight brief

COVID-19 and Funding for Civil Aviation – CRS Insight brief

COVID-19 and Passenger Airline Travel – CRS Insight brief

COVID-19 and the Cruise Ship Industry – CRS Insight brief

Deep dives

COVID-19: Federal Efforts Could Be Strengthened by Timely and Concerted Actions – GAO report

COVID-19: Opportunities to Improve Federal Response and Recovery Efforts – GAO report

COVID-19: Urgent Actions Needed to Better Ensure an Effective Federal Response – GAO report

Reauthorization of the Federal Public Transportation Program – CRS report

Issues in the Reauthorization of Amtrak – CRS report

Addressing COVID-19 Pandemic Impacts on Civil Aviation Operations – CRS report

Funding and Financing Highways and Public Transportation – CRS report

Supplemental resources

Press clips

Biden to sign order Thursday requiring masks on planes, buses, trains, and at airports – Washington Post piece

Coughing, sneezing, vomiting: Visibly ill people aren’t being kept off planes – Los Angeles Times piece

Metro launches pilot program to test new air filtration system in subway cars – Washington Post piece

Biden Cabinet: Buttigieg urges big funds for Transportation – AP piece

The U.S. is requiring COVID-19 tests for international entry. Experts say the approach is flawed – Washington Post piece

Trump Orders Lifting of Virus Travel Ban, but Biden Aides Vow to Block Move – New York Times piece

Is it Safe to Fly During the Pandemic? Answers from Experts – New York Times piece

Congressional correspondence

Letter from Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and their colleagues to the major domestic airlines urging them to issue full cash refunds to all customers who cancelled their flights during the COVID-19 pandemic

Letter from Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and their colleagues to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf requesting the agency increase the safety of air travel

Letter from Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and his colleagues to Senate Majority and Minority Leaders Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to extend the Payroll Support Program for aviation jobs

Bipartisan bills

Critical Infrastructure Employee Protection Act of 2020, H.R.7904, S.3728

Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services Act, H.R.7642, S.4150

Fly Safe and Healthy Act of 2020, H.R.8737, S.4623

Healthy Skies Act, H.R.7651

Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Act of 2020, H.R.7515, S.4395

Private-Public Partnership to Preserve Jobs in the Aviation Manufacturing Industry Act of 2020, S.3705

Protecting Tourism in the United States Act, H.R.8122, S.4847

Science. Policy. Service. Progress.

The Congressional Science Policy Initiative (CSPI) is a nonpartisan effort to facilitate the engagement of scientists, engineers, technologists, and other experts with the US Legislative Branch to help produce evidence-based public policy.

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