Carbon Dioxide Monitoring Demonstrates Variations in the Quality of Ventilation on Public Transportation Buses and University Student Shuttle Vans and Identifies Effective Interventions

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David Henry Greentree
Brigid M. Wilson
Curtis J. Donskey


Background: There is a risk for transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and other respiratory viruses in motor vehicles, particularly if ventilation is inadequate.

Methods: We used carbon dioxide monitoring to examine the quality of ventilation in several public transportation buses and in university student shuttle vans in the Cleveland metro area during peak and non-peak travel times. Carbon dioxide levels above 800 parts per million (ppm) were considered an indicator of suboptimal ventilation for the number of people present. In the shuttle vans, we evaluated the impact of an intervention to improve ventilation.

Results: In large articulated buses with 2 ventilation systems, carbon dioxide concentrations never exceeded 800 ppm, whereas in standard buses with 1 ventilation system concentrations rose above 800 ppm during peak travel times and on some trips during non-peak travel times. In shuttle vans, the ventilation system was not turned on during routine operation, and carbon dioxide levels rose above 800 ppm on all trips during peak and non-peak travel times. In the shuttle vans, an intervention involving operation of the existing ventilation system resulted in a significant reduction in carbon dioxide levels (mean concentration, 1,042 no intervention versus 785 with intervention; P<0.001). 

Conclusion: Our findings demonstrate substantial variability in the quality of ventilation in public transportation buses and university shuttle vans. There is a need for efforts to assess and optimize ventilation in motor vehicles used for public transportation to reduce the risk for aerosol-mediated transmission of respiratory viruses. Carbon dioxide monitoring may provide a useful tool to assess and improve ventilation.


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Author Biography

David Henry Greentree, Department of Biology, College of Arts and Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio; College of Medicine, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

David Henry Greentree graduated from CWRU in July 2023 and is now a medical student at OSU. He completed the work for this manuscript as part of his capstone thesis for honors biology at CWRU.


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