Where Should You Sit or Avoid On a Bus?

Taking public transport during the pandemic is unavoidable for many who cannot afford a private vehicle but still have to commute. The best we can do is to mitigate the risk of infection.

Researchers at IBM Research Europe recently published their findings in the Physics of Fluid Journal on how virus transmission occurs inside a bus. By simulating a model that includes air and droplet movements, evaporation and ventilation systems, the research team was able to determine which seat in the bus posed the highest risk of causing viral transmission.

“By visualizing the droplets and the flow, you realize the number of physical phenomena taking place around us that go unnoticed, such as the complex interactions between natural body plumes, exhalation, and ventilation,” said Carlos Peña-Monferrer, one of the paper’s authors. “When it comes to preventing risk of infection, this is precisely what makes it difficult to contain.”

The results showed that droplets emitted by passengers seated by the window rose higher up in the vehicle and therefore less of it entered the space of other passengers. Droplets from the aisle seats were immediately pulled down by the ventilation system and were the least likely to infect other passengers. And the most infectious seating turned out to be the middle seats, from where emitted droplets were most likely to contaminate the aisle passengers.

Flow velocity, temperature and droplets for a given instant. CREDIT: Figure courtesy of the authors.

The simulation was of a 3-3 passenger layout in a rectangular space and did not take into consideration other mitigating factors such as the wearing of masks.

To put it simply and it’s this writer’s conclusion that you’re safest seated by the window and the middle seats should be left vacant, and try to avoid the aisle seat if there is someone in the middle. And always, ALWAYS wear a mask.

Of course, more simulations like this will be able to help us mitigate infections in any public vehicle or building as we continue our lives in the new normal.

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