Taxi or train - coronavirus risk? (UK)
June 30, 2020 4:16 AM   Subscribe

Which is likely to be lower risk - a 50 minute train journey or a 35/40 minute taxi ride?

Unexpectedly, I need to get myself to London's Stansted airport tomorrow morning. I am trying to figure out whether it is better to take the Stansted Express airport train or a taxi. The train takes a bit longer and will mean more people are around, but it's unlikely to be super busy and therefore social distancing should be manageable. The taxi is quicker and involves contact with fewer people but that contact is closer.

In both forms of transport, masks are mandatory. We would open windows in the taxi if at all possible. Prices are basically the same.

(And yes, there will be a flight at the end of this, but I'm just thinking about exposure minimisation)

Is there a clear winner here on relative risk? What would you do?
posted by knapah to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
The taxi has fewer people in it, fewer people who have passed through it, and you'll spend less time in it.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:20 AM on June 30, 2020 [9 favorites]

I would take a train. I’ve taken two Uber’s last week and both drivers were wearing their masks improperly. One had cut a slit in his mask for his nose so I couldn’t even ask him to wear it properly *facepalm*.
With a train you have more freedom of movement to be further away from people. Depending on the time of day, hopefully if it is not too busy you should be able to stay 2 meters away from people and with a mask that should be sufficient enough to feel you’ve done what you can. You could even sit back to back with someone behind you, I think that would be ok. I would also bring some anti-bac along to use on the train before and after.
posted by like_neon at 4:24 AM on June 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh wow like_neon, that's not good. I came into the thread to say that I took 2 ubers last week and both times I felt very safe. One dude had a plastic partition between the front and the back seats and both times they were masking. I haven't taken the trains/tubes in London yet, but my friends say that if you go at a non-peak time, there's plenty of space between people and you're all supposed to be masking. And yes, bring the anti-bac gel with you.
posted by unicorn chaser at 4:30 AM on June 30, 2020

How is the train cooled? If it's anything that circulates air, distancing doesn't help nearly as much unless they use surprisingly excellent filters.
posted by teremala at 4:33 AM on June 30, 2020

Taxi. Shorter ride, interaction with fewer people, can open windows for airflow
posted by Sparky Buttons at 4:37 AM on June 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

The evidence from Paris and Japan seems to be that their subways aren't spreading vectors.

My feeling is that Liverpool Street and Stansted Airport stations both have wide, direct passageways to and from the train whereas dropoff at the taxi apron always feels like a stressful place where you may end up walking across people.

I guess there's a question of TfL taxi (with a built in partition, definite freedom to open windows & you know what you're getting) vs Uber, too.
posted by ambrosen at 4:47 AM on June 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I absolutely would not get an Uber. However Black Cabs of course have a perspex panel separating the driver and passenger, and I consider this worth the extra expense. When catching a cab recently I asked the driver to open both windows in the back before I even got in, ensuring immediate cross-ventilation.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 5:17 AM on June 30, 2020 [7 favorites]

Is the taxi a black cab with the plastic window and a long distance between the driver and the back passenger seats? Or a personal car/minicab situation? I would feel much safer in a big black cab.
posted by Glier's Goetta at 5:55 AM on June 30, 2020

"Is the taxi a black cab with the plastic window and a long distance between the driver and the back passenger seats?"

Yeah, this is the key question for me too. A taxi with a partition seems like the best bet. I'd still probably take an Uber over the train, though, because it seems like prolonged exposure is worse, and so I'd like to minimize the time spent in any vehicle.

Ultimately, though, the airport is going to be much more dangerous than either mode of transport.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:14 AM on June 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

I also got a taxi in London recently and it was not a black cab (was booked for me by a company so I didn't have a choice), no division between front and back and driver was not wearing a mask (and said he thinks the virus is a hoax). In your position, I would ask the taxi company what the set-up is and go with that if it seems reasonable, otherwise the railway.
posted by paduasoy at 6:16 AM on June 30, 2020

You said that the prices were the same between the "taxi" and Stansted Express.

A black cab would be a lot more expensive than Stansted Express. I'm guessing you are thinking of Uber or one of the prebooked cars, like Addison Lee or similar. In which case, there is no screen between the drivers and passengers, and the risk would be much higher for me compared to the train. It's a much smaller, confined space, and >90% of transmission happens in close proximity.

Stansted Express would be far more preferable for me. Wide large carriages at offpeak times. If I were you, I would even splash on First Class seats, which surprisingly does not cost much more.
posted by moiraine at 7:23 AM on June 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Stansted Express, definitely. I’ve been needing to get trains to work throughout the pandemic (physician), and they have been completely empty even at rush hour (you usually cannot get on at my local station between 7:30-9:30 because people literally fall out when the doors open, and i have been getting onto empty carriages recently). As people have mentioned, Uber drivers tend not to wear masks or have any concept of social distancing. Plus you are right next to them.

I think you get fast-track through security and access to the lounges with first class Stansted Express tickets (you definitely used to), so that is another advantage (reduces time in queues and around other people).
posted by tinkletown at 11:40 AM on June 30, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks all. We're getting the train.

I had initially gone with taxi (£45) but the weather forecast made me sceptical of being able to have the windows open the whole way etc. so I've booked train tickets (£38 for two people). A black cab appeared to be about £120, which I couldn't really do.

I didn't go first class as the first class section of the train is relatively small and even more confined. Also, I understand all the lounges are closed and fast track security is probably a worse bottleneck than the big open normal area.

I'll try and report back how it went.
posted by knapah at 1:37 PM on June 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

I would have nthed a black cab: in addition to the panel their drivers are required to pass "the knowledge" of London's streets.
posted by brujita at 10:19 PM on June 30, 2020

Response by poster: I would have nthed a black cab: in addition to the panel their drivers are required to pass "the knowledge" of London's streets

I love black cabs, but they wouldn't need much of the knowledge to drive along the M11!

The Stansted Express is pretty empty. Only one other person in the whole carriage, though it looked a little bit busier further down the train.
posted by knapah at 11:42 PM on June 30, 2020 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Thought I'd give one extra update just for anyone else traveling soon. Stansted was practically deserted on Wednesday morning. They had good social distancing in all queues, plenty of hand sanitizer stations and compulsory masking. The duty free shop had reopened that day, but barely anyone was shopping and the only other open shops were Boots (plenty of small hand sanitizer bottles available) and a WH Smith's.

The flight itself (Ryanair) was about two thirds full, everyone expect children were wearing masks (though some seemed to not understand that you have to put it over your nose as well as your mouth). They did not implement any social distancing measures on the plane.

The airport felt completely safe and like a low transmission risk, at least based on the numbers present on that day. The flight was a bit more "hmm", but there were mitigations in place and people seemed to take them seriously.
posted by knapah at 3:07 AM on July 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

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