Current Pandemic Creates Opportunities for Transit and Human Services Partnerships

  • Author: Josephine Hauer, Judy Shanley
  • Date: June 2, 2020

States are adapting their methods to address emergent and unexpected needs of families for transportation as well as a precipitous decline in ridership during this pandemic.

For example, Mid-Coast Public Transportation in Maine had to retool and find new ways to serve the community. They adapted quickly, retaining much of their workforce and continued to meet the needs of families across the state as a provider for Waldo Community Action Partners (WCAP). Like other transit providers nationally, Mid-Coast modified its services and established partnerships to support communities innovatively, beyond its regular activities. They began to implement some of the following:

  • Delivering meals to seniors and families.
  • Bringing essential workers and their children to childcare and jobs.
  • Helping schools get homework and learning materials to children to support remote learning.

These adaptations spotlight that transit is not just a way to get from point A to Point B – but, a service itself.


Buses, vanpools and rideshares provide critical access to food, health care, broadband, employment, education, and inclusive community activities. When transportation is seen through a whole family lens, possibilities arise that are creative and enduring, even in a post-COVID-19 world. There is suddenly great value in transportation as a service and this comes with new partnerships, connections and roles.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has served as a catalyst for partnerships – especially with those programs such as family services and food programs - we expect these partnerships to last well after our current crisis.


This time of adaptation and innovation for the family calls for even stronger connections between transportation and human services. Fortunately, there are Federal efforts, including the Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (CCAM), which recognize holistic approaches working across lanes and breaking down silos.

A Whole Family Approach for Collaboration

When family is in the center, workforce, education, human services, healthcare and transportation all play essential roles in supporting the success of families and communities. A Whole Family Approach to Jobs (WFAJ) is a state-federal initiative in New England seeking to increase family economic mobility by identifying state-driven program and policy alignment opportunities for low-income parents and  develop a regional learning community focused on whole family approaches.

Recent work has focused on making connections cross-sector among housing, transportation, labor and human services. The partnerships created among WFAJ stakeholders have been important in current strategies related to COVID-19 response for families.

At the WFAJ meeting in March, New England transportation and human service leaders met to discuss Transportation, Peer Learning and Effective Practices that Move Families Forward. Judy Shanley, Easterseals Director NCMM, a TA provider for the Federal Transit Administration offered a national view, with examples of how states and communities across the country are meeting transportation needs of families.

The discussion continued during the COVID-19 crisis and stakeholders worked to address new innovations, gaps and challenges in transportation. The group has exchanged ideas and resources to address transportation challenges related to the critical services that individuals need – in a holistic way. Some current examples in New England include:

  • Mid-Coast Public Transportation is working with a local technical school with a culinary program and delivering food from the school to families. Their coordinated service system supports transportation for elders to medical appointments and food shopping via a Medicaid contract.
  • Connecticut Department of Transportation is collaborating with the Connecticut Food bank to map food pantries and grocery stores and identifying gaps in food access.
  • Massachusetts is helping personal care attendants reach customers’ homes under paratransit services eligibility. The RIDE is the MBTA’s door-to-door, shared-ride paratransit service and customers can book a ride for the personal care attendants under their eligibility status.
  • Rhode Island’s human service agency was working with the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) to bring low-income parents to job interviews. During the pandemic, the focus changed to helping families reach their mental health and other appointments. RIPTA is using CARES Act funding to strengthen community partnerships to enhance transportation and mobility in rural areas. RIPTA wants to explore developing mobility hubs that offer child care with partners.
  • A Vermont transportation provider reports they have shifted to on-demand service in rural areas and they offer non-emergency medical trips. CARES Act funding supports cleaning of buses to ensure safety for drivers and riders.

These examples underscore the connections across human services and transportation. Leaders in both fields agree that many of these practices and innovations should remain post-COVID-19 as they show the efficacy of collaboration at the policy and program levels; the importance of braiding and/or blending funding; and the strength of engaging mobility managers, front-line workers and the customer.

A human service coordinated transportation plan is a good start to identifying partners.


For more information on the Whole Family Approach to Jobs initiative, contact:

Josephine Hauer, ACF – Regional Specialist for Innovation and Strategy –


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