The Curbing Cars Newsletter 3/8/2020

The future of transportation and its intersection with the environment

The coronavirus is affecting all the ways we get around

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The coronavirus outbreak is getting worse by the day, and it is having a devastating impact on travel. In just the past few days, we’ve seen the virus affect every way that people get around.

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost expert in communicable diseases, issued a stark warning for anyone over age 65 or those with compromised immune systems.

This came after the CDC issued new guidance for older people in dealing with the coronavirus.

As of Tuesday, Amtrak is suspending non-stop service between Washington, D.C. and New York City. It does not plan to resume it until May 26. Acela trains that make multiple stops will still run.

Italy is restricting the movement in 15 northern provinces, home to one-quarter of its population. The decree also puts a ban on all public events, and closes movie theaters, stage theaters and gyms.

New York City has stepped up the cleaning of its subway and bus systems. Workers in hazmat suits have now become a common sight in stations underground.

Four professional cycling teams are on lockdown after exposure to the virus.

Biggest impact: airlines

And then, there’s the airline industry, which finds itself scrambling to deal with the spread of the virus.

We asked journalist Marc Stewart to help us navigate the impact of the outbreak on aviation.

Marc’s career has taken him across the United States, Central America, Europe and Asia, including North Korea. He was most recently an anchor and reporter at the ABC affiliate in Denver, and has just completed a master’s degree in business and economic reporting at New York University. 

You may have seen him recently on ABC News or read his coverage at The Points Guy. Here’s his look at the impact on different airlines.

On Wednesday, United Airlines announced it was cutting its international schedule by 20% in April. Flights across the United States and Mexico will be slashed by 10%.  In addition, the carrier has announced a hiring freeze and offering a voluntary, unpaid leave of absence for some employees.  

While the moves may seem harsh, company leaders hope the proactive steps will help the airline maintain economic stability.  

“We sincerely hope that these latest measures are enough, but the dynamic nature of this outbreak requires us to be nimble and flexible moving forward in how we respond,” wrote United’s CEO Oscar Munoz and President Scott Kirby in an employee letter.

Alaska Airlines is working with scientists at the University of Washington to review its procedures.  It’s also eliminating drink refills using the same cup and suspending warm towel service for those flying in the first-class cabin.

Delta Air Lines is using a “fogging technique” to disinfect some of its aircraft used on long-haul flights. You can find its coronavirus update page here.

Answers to your coronavirus questions

Now, let’s look at some of the questions you submitted for Marc.

 1) If I have a flight coming up, what should I consider in deciding whether or not to take my trip?

The decision to travel or stay at home is a personal one. We all have our own personal thresholds of comfort. However, it’s important to stress that while some schedules have been reduced, the airlines are still flying and the government hasn’t placed any restrictions on domestic routes.

If your health is an issue, perhaps have a conversation with your physician about your upcoming flight as well as identifying resources such as health clinics and providers once you arrive. Getting sick while abroad can be challenging and expensive. Being proactive is essential.

2) How much could the outbreak affect demand for travel of all kinds?

It’s inevitable that other forms of travel will feel the impact of the outbreak. Just look at the companies placing restrictions on corporate travel. This includes automakers, tech firms and banks. Other firms are asking people to work from home. This could mean fewer people on buses, subways and light rail systems.

Living here in New York, I’ve only seen a few people wearing masks on the subway and the trains still seem to be packed.  

Every sector of the travel industry is vulnerable, from hotels to ride share services.  Each component depends on each other to thrive. We’ve already seen, the slump in demand is global.

3) Do you think the virus will cause people to drive instead of fly, or will they simply not travel at all?

I think it’s hard to predict the movement of people as the spread of coronavirus is constantly changing, but the number of being flying is clearly on the decline.  Instead of taking a trip overseas, many families may opt for a road trip within their own state or region. For example, if you live in metro Detroit, you may opt for a drive up north to Traverse City, rather than fly out west.

4)  Tell us some good sources of information about the coronavirus outbreak.

Centers For Disease Control

The CDC website has a special section dedicated to travel. Visitors will find specific advisories for specific countries. If you’re heading abroad, this should be on your “must click” list. It is detailed and thorough.

Airline Pilots Association

Association of Flight Attendants

If you want to get an idea of what flight crews are facing and the questions they may have during this time of uncertainty, both the Airline Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants websites provide some guidance that may even help you.

5) What happens if the outbreak lasts into spring, and even into the summer?

After seeing years of record growth, the airline industry is preparing for what could be a rough period. For now, the price of jet fuel is extremely low, so that’s a boost for their financial health. Still, as long as corporate travel restrictions remain in place and the public deals with an element of fear, capacity is bound to drop even further. I think carriers such as United and JetBlue are hoping self-imposed schedule cuts will help cushion any blow by eliminating the threat of flying empty aircraft.

I’ve been talking to a lot of people familiar with the industry, including an economist. It seems airlines will likely maintain their current ticket prices because of the cheap fuel prices, but if there is a change, I’m told a shift could occur in about two weeks.  Still there are some deals.  Alaska Airlines had a promotion this week with $20 tickets.

Our thanks to Marc Stewart! Follow him on Twitter @MarcReporting and on Instagram @MarcReports

Some stories worth your time

Are car shows finished? As we told you last week, organizers canceled this year’s Geneva Motor Show over fears of spreading the coronavirus. The move brings up a good question: do we even need car shows any more? They’ve been around for more than a century, so it’s hard to think of the industry without them. And, car dealers insist that auto shows are important venues to sell cars.

However, car introductions take place all year long now, and it’s hard to get the kind of attention for a car show that used to be paid when media was only print, TV and radio. They might be fun family entertainment, and heaven for car geeks, but they may no longer tick the boxes they used to.

Women gain clout in the U.S. economy. For only the second time in history, there are more women in non-farm payroll jobs than men. The last time this happened was during the Great Recession, which hit men particularly hard. One reason is that women have shifted away from jobs that have traditionally gone to female employees, and they are filling jobs that have always gone to men.

This development is important for the auto industry because women buy more than half the vehicles sold, and take part in 80 percent of purchase decisions. As they get more economic power, they have more clout in dealerships. Here and Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks to Professor Betsey Stevenson at the University of Michigan about these developments, and the interview is well worth a listen.

Back seat passengers may soon be buckling up. We’ve all encouraged our kids to buckle up in the back seat, and many of us do so when we ride in cabs or ride hailing vehicles. Now, New York State may require all adults to buckle up in the back seat. Half the people killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2017 were not wearing a seatbelt. The bill would affect adults ages 16 and up.

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