Listen: Millennials Are Buying ‘COVID Cars’

Hamblin: Yeah, I think it’s a low likelihood, but not unreasonable. But certainly, when people are doing ride-shares or riding in cars with, you know, people who are not in their bubble for any reason, that is not a good situation.

Meyer: Yeah, so your view is that renting is low risk … and ride-share is not the best?

Hamblin: Surfaces are easily sanitized. Air should not be lingering from the person who was in there a few hours before. And I would always be driving with the windows open and fan on if you’re riding with anyone. I think the issue comes when you’re in a car with people outside your bubble and the windows are up and the air is not on, or the AC’s on and recirculating things, where you really are in extremely close quarters. Not just not social distancing, but you’re closer than you would be—

Meyer: Right, you’re like sharing a single scuba tank?

Hamblin: Yes, exactly. I think that is not good. I guess the solution is that everyone wants to avoid having to catch a ride with people, having to do a ride-share, having to take a cab … so they’re getting their own freedom-mobiles. Is that right?

Meyer: Yeah, that’s right. There are two data points here. The first is, back in the early summer, there was this interesting phenomenon where car sales on the whole were down, but car sales among 18-to-35-year-olds were up. Relatively young adults like you and me, who live in cities where we haven’t needed cars or where a car has just seemed like more expense than it’s worth, are suddenly deciding to get cars.

The other data point is that people are buying a lot of used cars in a noticeable way. Carvana, which is this online-only, no-in-person national dealership, has basically said it’s inventory-constrained. In other words, it is not able to obtain used cars as fast as it’s selling them.

I think some people are buying cars because they are afraid of contracting the virus. And I’ll be honest, that’s certainly a reason I bought a car. My parents live in New Jersey and during nonpandemic times, I would just take Amtrak to see them. But the idea of taking Amtrak, taking the metro or the subway during a pandemic, especially if one of the things that I’d be doing is visiting a potentially sick person already, that wasn’t that appealing to me. What’s your sense of how risky or low-risk taking public transit is?

Hamblin: Well, that’s obviously a very broad term. We’ve talked a little bit on the show about airplanes, which at first seemed like very bad situations. The reason we don’t see outbreaks of things like flu on airplanes—and we haven’t seen outbreaks of coronavirus on airplanes—is because the airflow in there is really good. And actually, this mechanical engineer messaged me after we talked about this on the podcast and he’s been calling for opening the windows on subway cars and all that. I would feel very safe doing that. As it is, I don’t know what precautions are being taken in different places. I’m sure they vary.

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