A suburban transit agency has installed air-purifying technology on its buses to help protect its drivers from contracting COVID-19.
Plymouth Metrolink spent $11,000 to install the devices that look like Bluetooth speakers in the driver’s cabin on each of its 44 buses and is believed to be the first public transportation agency in the country to use the technology.
Called AirBubbl, the devices extract more than 95% of airborne viruses, pollutants, dust and pollen from the air, then flood the vehicle with more than 30,000 liters of clean air every hour, said Marc Ottolini, CEO of Airlabs, the London-based company that makes them.
Coronavirus “is real and it is a lottery,” Ottolini said. “You don’t get ill from one molecule, but how much viral load does it take? This is about chipping away at the risk and making it as small as possible.”
That was a selling point for Nur Kasin, transit administrator for Plymouth. Like most transit agencies, Metrolink enacted strict protocols when the pandemic broke out. The agency began temperature checks and screenings for drivers. It provides drivers with personal protection equipment, and it installed plexiglass barriers to keep drivers separate from riders. Metrolink also instituted a rigorous vehicle cleaning schedule, restricted the number of passengers allowed to be on the bus and required them to wear masks.
Kasin wondered if there was something more he could do. He saw a news article about AirBubbl being used with positive results in London ambulances to protect emergency medical technicians. He decided to bring it to Plymouth.
“We needed to do something extra,” Kasin said. “We can’t guarantee the removal of COVID, but this is another device so drivers feel safe. It adds value and they feel taken care of.”
Kasin said Plymouth Metrolink has not had any drivers infected with the coronavirus.
Airlabs is developing smaller units for passenger sections of buses and trains and hopes to have them available by the end of the year. The units could be attached to every seat or placed above them to create a personal clean air zone, Ottolini said.
The technology, Ottolini said, might hold the key to making people comfortable using public transportation.
“If people are scared, how do we get people back on public transport?” he said. “Everybody is desperate for a solution. People are going back to their cars, and that’s not what cities want. That creates more air pollution.”