How often would you take the bus or train if you knew that the chance of sharing your seat with bed bugs, cockroaches, or fleas was pretty high?
An older study of London’s public transport found that the average train carriage can contain up to “1,000 cockroaches (living behind lighting panels, ceiling panels & under the door), up to 200 bedbugs (in seat fabric), and up to 200 fleas.” Buses are typically less infested by insect pests, with the average bus holding up to 500 cockroaches, up to 50 bed bugs, and up to 50 fleas.
Not even wild animals can say no to a safe place to hide and the promise of a meal inside trains and buses. Just earlier this month, a raccoon was found beneath a seat
aboard a GO train at Union Station in Toronto. Luckily, the animal wasn’t aggressive, and the Burlington Animal Services was able to remove it shortly after passengers reported its presence on the train.
Unfortunately, most stories involving pests on public transportation don’t end at your destination. Bed bugs and other hitchhiking pests can easily cling to clothing that people wear or hide inside their luggage, patiently waiting to arrive at their new home. It takes only one bug to hitch a ride home with you, and before you know it, your residence will be infested with hundreds of creepy crawlers craving your blood.
How Do Pests Find Their Way Inside Trains and Buses?
The public transportation system in our towns and cities sees a constant turnover of riders, which makes it ever more vulnerable to a variety of pest problems. Furthermore, the short turnaround times for trains and other means of transport often means that they are not as thoroughly inspected and cleaned as they should be.
The results? According to a 2015 survey
conducted by the National Pest Management Association, 29 percent of U.S. pest professionals treated bed bugs on public transportation (train/bus/taxi) in 2015, up from 21 percent in 2013. Although not a seasonal pest, two-thirds of respondents said summer was the season with most bed bug complaints, primarily due to increased travel, use of public transportation, and hotel stays. Buses, trains, subway systems, planes
, cruise ships
, and any other form of transport where there is a high turnover can become a breeding ground for pests.
Although bed bugs on public transportation vehicles cause the greatest scare among passengers
, they are not the only hitchhiking pests you can encounter. Fleas and lice from cats and dogs, as well as cockroaches hiding in the folds of clothes or the dark corners of suitcases, can also hitchhike on public vehicles and find a new host to infest.
Depending on the means of transport you use, there are a few simple things you can do to avoid pests on public transportation.
- Upholstered seats and fabric-lined surfaces are bed bugs' preferred hiding places inside trains and buses. If possible, avoid sitting on seats that are lined with fabric and instead choose benches or plastic seats.
- Keep your purse or handbag on your knees or lap whenever possible. An adult bed bug is about the size of an apple seed, which makes it almost invisible to the untrained eye.
- Luggage that has spent a considerable amount of time on public transport vehicles should not be unpacked inside the house or close to the bedroom. Consider keeping suitcases in your garage for a few days and inspect them thoroughly before bringing them inside.
- To be extra safe, wash your clothes at hot temperatures as soon as you return from your trip.
- If possible, avoid putting your luggage in the trunk of a taxi. Trunks are the perfect hiding spot for the tiny, nocturnal bed bugs, and they can easily hop onto your belongings undetected.
- Whenever possible, sit in the front seat as fewer people typically sit there, and the risk of pests is lower.
- Use a plastic cover to slip over airplane seats in order to create a pest-proof layer between the upholstery and you.
- Avoid using airplane pillows and blankets. Purchase a travel pillow and bring your own blanket whenever you’re traveling long distances.
- Empty your luggage outside the house and wash all washable contents before returning them to your residence. Put your suitcases in a plastic bag and store it for at least a couple of weeks.
Taking these proactive measures will considerably lower your chances of traveling with bugs this holiday season. However, it may still be possible to miss finding bed bugs on your belongings and end up with a full-blown infestation in your home, despite your earnest efforts. If you suspect you may have brought unwanted guests from your trip, contact a professional pest company right away. Time is of the essence when it comes to these pests, as they can rapidly find their way inside your house and start breeding uncontrollably.
A pest professional will be able to determine the scope of existent and potential pest problems and stop them before they get out of control. Depending on the severity of the infestation, your pest control professional will recommend the best course of treatment to eradicate pests and their eggs in the best way for your family, pets, and the environment.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.