Avoid Coronavirus While Riding a Rented Bike or Electric Scooter

Follow the advice from ride-share companies if you're looking for an alternative to public transportation

e-scooters Marilyn Nieves

Update: This week, e-scooter startup Lime announced it was temporarily suspending operations in countries across the world, including the U.S., because of the cornavirus, and its main competitor, Bird, said it was pausing operations in some U.S. cities. But other e-scooter rental apps and bike-share programs may continue operating in some cities. The precautions described below will still apply to them.

More cities across the U.S. have announced measures in recent days to limit the movement of people as a way to combat the spread of COVID-19: from school districts temporarily closing to restaurants being open only for take-out or delivery.

If you live in a city, you might also be taking steps to avoid public transportation, where large groups of people can congregate. Indeed, in New York City, subway ridership has drastically fallen in recent days as fears of the novel coronavirus have spread.

More on Coronavirus and Scooters

While everyone should follow advice from local health authorities to stay home and avoid public places as much as possible, some people still need to get to work. Another option? Electric scooters or bike-share programs.

E-scooters have taken cities by storm in recent years, driven mostly by startup firms such as Bird and Lime, which, since late 2017, have launched—sometimes to the disdain of local officials—rental services in dozens of cities across the U.S. Officials have struggled to grapple with an immediate uptick in serious injuries—a CR investigation in early 2019 found that more than 1,500 people in the U.S. had been injured, but that number has since risen—along with regulatory uncertainty about the legality of e-scooters and where they should be used.

A recent nationally representative survey by Consumer Reports found that more than 8 out of 10 Americans think there should be laws regulating where electric scooters can be used, such as on a sidewalk or in a bike lane, and almost three-quarters think there should be laws regarding where the vehicles should be used.

But now that the coronavirus is spreading in the U.S., consumers may be looking to transportation alternatives such as e-scooters. Private ownership of e-scooters could tick upward, too, and as such, CR this week rolled out new ratings of some popular e-scooter brands that are available today.

Bike-share programs are also common in more than 100 cities, large and small, throughout the country.

So if you’re considering using an e-scooter or bike-share as a way to practice social distancing from others, what should you do to protect yourself while riding?

What Companies Are Doing

CR reached out to Bird and Lime to see what the companies are doing to allay concerns from riders who might worry about catching the coronavirus on an e-scooter.

Travis VanderZanden, founder and CEO of Bird, said in a statement that the company is increasing how frequently it cleans and sanitizes vehicles in the field each day. It’s also increasing what VanderZanden described as “deep-clean” vehicle baths that take place at local service centers.

Workers in the field will be provided extra gloves and hand sanitizer, he said, and the company is continuously monitoring statements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization for updates. Policies and operations will be updated as more is learned about COVID-19, he added.

“At Bird, we remain fully focused on the health and safety of the communities in which we live, work, and operate,” he said.

Nick Shapiro, global head of trust and safety at Lime, wrote in a blog post last week that Lime has also increased the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting scooters, while mechanics and operators in the field have been required to wear gloves and wash their hands regularly.

Lime is also following developments from the CDC, WHO, and other health organizations, he said, and, “Based on this information, we will decide to continue, pause, or suspend operations in certain markets.”

Some cities with bike-share programs are also taking extra steps amid the coronavirus outbreak, like Pittsburgh's Healthy Ride system. Last week, Healthy Ride issued a statement relevant to bike-share riders anywhere, such as: washing your hands before and after a ride (or using hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol); avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth; and consider wearing gloves while riding.

"During this time, we anticipate an increase in ridership as people seek transit alternatives that do not require close physical contact," the Healthy Ride statement said, citing recommendations from health officials to observe social distancing. "Our team is currently taking steps to sanitize our fleet of bicycles—however, it is still recommended that our customers wash their hands after each use."

What You Should Do

Shapiro’s statement also provided advice for riders using a rented scooter, but his points are just as relevant to anyone with a privately owned scooter. Shapiro said that you should:

• Wipe down scooter handlebars with a disinfectant prior to riding.

• Consider wearing gloves and washing your hands before and after riding.

That advice echoes what CR heard recently from David Freedman, M.D., a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“The virus is not going to jump off the handlebars and jump into your mouth,” Freedman said. Instead, he said, cleaning your hands after touching the handlebars is probably the best way to stay safe.

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Ryan Felton

I'm an investigative journalist with an appetite to cover anything and everything. My job and goal is to dig into complicated issues that affect people's health, safety, and bottom line. I've covered everything from dangerous tires to subprime lending to corporate malfeasance. Got a tip? Drop me an email ( ryan.felton@consumer.org), or follow me on Twitter ( @ryanfelton) for my contact info on Signal.