COVID-19 may have forever changed our world. Given the limited space and air circulation, potential infections on public transportation could be concerningly high. Accordingly, this study has two objectives: (1) to understand air circulation patterns inside the cabins of buses; and (2) to test the impact of different technologies in mitigating viruses from the air and on surfaces inside bus cabins. For the first objective, different devices, metrics and experiments (including colored smoke; videotaping; anemometers; pressure differentials; particle counts; and 3D numerical simulation models) were utilized and implemented to understand and quantify air circulation inside different buses, with different characteristics, and under different operating conditions (e.g. with windows open and shut). For the second objective, three different live prokaryotic viruses were utilized: Phi6, MS2 and T7. Various technologies (including positive pressure environment inside the cabin, HEPA filters with different MERV ratings, concentrated UV exposure with charged carbon filters in the HVAC systems, center point photocatalytic oxidation technology, ionization, and surface antiviral agents) were tested to evaluate the potential of mitigating COVID-19 infections via air and surfaces in public transportation. The effectiveness of these technologies on the three live viruses was tested in both the lab and in buses in the field. The results of the first objective experiments indicated the efficiency of HVAC system designs, where the speed of air spread was consistently much faster than the speed of air clearing. Hence, indicating the need for additional virus mitigation from the cabin. Results of the second objective experiments indicated that photocatalytic oxidation inserts and UVC lights were the most efficient in mitigating viruses from the air. On the other hand, positive pressure mitigated all viruses from surfaces; however, copper foil tape and fabrics with a high percentage of copper mitigated only the Phi6 virus from surfaces. High-temperature heating was also found to be highly effective in mitigating the different viruses from the vehicle cabin. Finally, limited exploratory experiments to test possible toxic by-products of photocatalytic oxidation and UVC lights inside the bus cabin did not detect any increase in levels of formaldehyde, ozone, or volatile organic compounds. Implementation of these findings in transit buses, in addition to the use of personal protective equipment, could be significantly valuable for protection of passengers and drivers on public transportation modes, possibly against all forms of air-borne viruses.
Digital Object Identifier
Mineta Transportation Institute URL
Public transportation, Air circulation, Virus mitigation, HVAC, UVC lights
Transportation Engineering | Virus Diseases
Aly Tawfik, Deify Law, Juris Grasis, Joseph Oldham, and Moe Salem. "COVID-19 Public Transportation Air Circulation and Virus Mitigation Study" Mineta Transportation Institute Publications (2022). https://doi.org/10.31979/mti.2022.2036