It’s cold and flu season, but no one needs to tell you that; the signs are all around. From the sneezes on the bus to the coughs at work, you’re living in a state of constant vigilance.
“Will this be the sneeze that gets me sick?” For parents, the question is less, “Will I escape unscathed?” and more, “How many days will I be down?” Public transit commuters are in a similar boat (or bus or train).
In the U.S., 10.5 billion trips are made on public transit every year1 and this number is growing at a record rate. If you are among those billions, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you will be in a crowded rush hour train or bus with someone who is battling a cold or flu. You may curse (internally) the sick riders, but let’s face it, we’ve all been that coughing person with the runny nose. In today’s world, being sick is not an excuse to stay home.
How can we help transit commuters stay a little healthier this cold and flu season?
We set out to understand the science behind the spread of disease as well as the behaviors and motivations of transit riders trying to stay healthy. We interviewed, observed, shadowed, and hashtagged
Here’s what we learned:
No control when it matters most
It’s no secret: trains and buses are full of germs. People cough into their hands and then grab rails. Children don’t always know to cover their mouths when sneezing. Even the most conscientious can find it difficult to contain their germs when they themselves are feeling under the weather. It’s ironic. We hear so much about healthy hygiene habits, but in one of the situations where it matters most — a crowded rush-hour train — there’s very little we can actually do to protect ourselves or others. We can sneeze into our elbows (if our hands are empty and it’s not too crowded) or wash our hands at our destination (if we remember), but what else? Our mission was clear.
What are ways of empowering transit riders to protect themselves and others in the moment?
That’s what we asked ourselves as we started looking at solutions. Pulling from our research into the spread of disease, we explored ideas around two key levers: people and infrastructure. We brought in gravitytank colleagues and the Haas Design and Innovation Strategy Club from UC Berkeley to help with brainstorming and prototyping and ultimately developed two separate concepts. Both concepts empower the commuter to protect themselves and others, but one is embodied in a new consumer product line while the other is meant as a set of provocations for transit system design.