Social Distancing in Cabs: Why Plastic Panels Won’t Be Effective
Using plastic sheets to isolate the driver from the passengers in cabs isn’t going to be practical or comfortable.
There is a genuine fear of using public transport once lockdown lifts. Cab operators like Ola and Uber are already expecting a drop in ridership as customers may prefer to use their own personal transport.
However, to reassure customers, some state governments like the Kerala government is mandating the use of isolators in cabs to separate passengers from the driver. No passenger will be allowed to sit in the co-drivers seat in front, and only two passengers with masks are allowed to sit in the rear of the car to follow social distancing norms and maintain hygiene.
This model of separating passengers and driver comes from Dubai and has also been used in some cities in China. It's not unlike the old New York taxis, that had a physical fibre-glass panel separating passengers from the driver.
But will it work in preventing the spread of COVID-19? There are still some risks.
Cabs Won't Be Comfortable
By placing this physical plastic-sheet or fiber-glass barrier between the driver and rear-seat passengers, it will make the passengers at the rear quite uncomfortable. The plastic sheet separating the cabin means the car cannot use its air-conditioner.
That means the passengers will have to sit with the rear windows open in the car. With the summer heat and dust, the ride won't be a pleasant one. And for those who feel claustrophobic the feeling of confinement with a full-length barrier in front of them is inevitable.
Plus, there's the risk of airborne droplet contamination if both the driver and passenger have their windows open, being seated less than 3 feet apart.
Why ACs Cannot Be Used in Cabs
Almost all vehicles that are used as cabs have AC vents situated in front of the car, on the dashboard. Even those that have rear AC vents, have them located between the front seats. Placing the plastic barrier in the cab, as seen in the photo, means that no airconditioning can reach the rear.
In larger MPVs and SUVs that are also used as cabs, there are roof-mounted or pillar-mounted rear-AC vents. Surely, they can be used, right? No. The thing is the air that is circulated in the car is usually drawn in from under the dashboard or from an intake at the rear in large MPVs. There is no separation of air for the driver and rest of the cabin.
However, if the AC is used in "fresh-air" mode, the risk of contaminated air is less, because it draws in external air that passes through a cabin filter, but the AC is less effective on a hot summer's day.
Unknown Hygiene Conditions
The primary reason people will be uncomfortable with taking cabs is because of the unknown hygiene conditions of the car. Even though cab operators have promised to sanitise the vehicle after every ride, the risks remain.
Cars will have to be sanitised after every passenger fare. Door handles, seats, door panels, window buttons have to be wiped down with disinfectant solutions. Passengers will have to wear masks and gloves at all times to avoid touching car surfaces or their faces. Carpets will have to be cleaned out after every ride and sprayed with disinfectant.
For cabs that are used by at least 8-10 different people every day, this is a tough task.
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