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  • Got questions? Ask Pima County’s Green Geek.

    Pima County FYI has a monthly column featuring questions and answers on all things green. Our own Green Geek usually gets assistance on answering your questions from the experts in Pima County's Office of Sustainability and Conservation. This month, the Green Geek got an assist from the folks at the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality. We also chose a slightly different format and tackled one topic: commuting in the age of COVID-19.

    Send your future questions to fyinewsletter@pima.gov. And look for the column the second Friday of each month.


    It is a tough decision these days – do we travel to work on the bus, carpool, bike, walk or drive alone for work commutes? The Pima County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are experts in dealing with COVID-19 and continue to provide guidance for our daily routines. While following their guidance, you might also consider the following as you decide how to commute to the office for the short-term and long-term.

    Biking and Walking

    If you live close enough to your workplace, biking or walking can be an ideal option to choose. You can maintain social distancing and generally have a healthy way to get to work. Active transportation can reduce the risk of exposure to infectious disease, and Loop commuteryour improved physical fitness from biking or walking may help reduce complications if you were to contract the virus.

    A National Geographic Science article, referencing a transportation and public health expert at the University of British Columbia, mentioned, “that every extra hour that people spend in a car each day increases their risk for obesity by 6 percent. Obesity, in turn, is a predictor of diabetes and heart disease—which both increase a person’s vulnerability to COVID-19 complications.” 

    Check to see if you could use the non-motorized multi-use Chuck Huckelberry Loop, even just once or twice a week, for a healthier commute.

    Driving Alone

    Driving alone can help maintain social distancing, however, there are other concerns associated with being an SOV (single occupant vehicle). Driving gas-powered motor vehicles is a major source of air pollution, and exposure to air pollution increases risk of serious complications for those who have the coronavirus.

    Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted a nationwide cross-sectional study in which they state, “Many of the pre-existing conditions that increase the risk of death in those with COVID-19 are the same diseases that are affected by long-term exposure to air pollution.” 

    Erin Jordan, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, commented in an Arizona Republic article that, “It remains essential that we continue every effort to maintain and improve air quality in the Phoenix and Tucson areas and across the state.” She continued, “Ozone in the air we breathe can be harmful to our health and worsen bronchitis, emphysema, asthma and other respiratory issues, including those symptoms related to COVID-19.” 

    About half the air pollution we breathe comes from driving motor vehicles, and we are now in the time of year when ozone air pollution levels tend to be higher. This makes it important to consider other safe ways to travel besides driving alone in our vehicles.

    If you must drive alone, you can ease the situation a bit by flexing your commute times (with your supervisor's approval) to help reduce traffic congestion, avoid idling when possible, filling up your fuel tank in the evening, and combining errands into one trip to reduce miles driven.


    Carpooling can be a viable option to reduce exposure to infectious disease and reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. The carpooling website Scoop suggests limiting a carpool to a driver and one passenger, who should sit in the back seat on the right. Masks should be worn and airflow should be considered knowing that recirculated air can pass germs. Vehicles should be kept clean, carpoolers’ symptom checked, and staying with the same carpooler can be a benefit to reduce exposure.

    Bus stop

    Public Transit

    Some folks have continued to ride the bus for work commutes and can attest to the efforts Sun Tran, Sun Link and Sun Van are taking to clean and disinfect vehicles and common areas. Each night, fogging machines disinfect high-use handrails, grab bars, poles and pull cords. Hand sanitizer is also available to drivers and at transfer stations. 

    Until further notice (likely sometime in June), riders will continue to enter busses at the rear door and do not tap their passes on the fare box, so the rides are free, and risk lowered. Sun Tran asks that busses be used for essential trips only. What’s essential? Work trips are essential, however, if you see that your bus is too crowded to afford adequate social distancing and you have a vehicle available, you might consider driving your personal vehicle instead (or consider carpooling). Passengers should maintain a distance of six feet from others when possible.

    Sun Tran strongly recommends all riders use face coverings. Here is one how-to video that shows how easy it is to make them, if you do not already have any.

    Note that Express busses are still at a reduced schedule due to a shortage of drivers, and they tend to carry the least passengers. Visit Sun Tran’s website for schedule updates.

    Where does safety begin?

    Whether you choose to share rides on transit or in a carpool, bike, walk or drive alone to work, safety begins when you walk out your door. Follow these Centers for Disease Control suggestions to reduce the risk of transmitting disease.
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