New Report: Public Transportation’s Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic and How it Shapes Transit’s Future

  • Author: A Conrick
  • Date: August 11, 2021
Parked bus has on their front LED sign, Essential Rides Only
Image Credit: Hillsborough Area Regional Transit

With the COVID-19 pandemic rocking the United States, transit, like other essential sectors, needed to adjust how they offered their existing services and consider how they could provide new service offerings for their communities.

Beyond transporting people, transit agencies have fed their communities, provided mobile internet access, and importantly, given people access to vaccinations, COVID-19 testing, and medical care. This need to respond to the times has led to a multitude of lessons and opportunities, along with challenges that were overcome.

A New Report

The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) has captured these lessons, opportunities, and challenges in its report, Public Transportation’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic and How It Shapes Transit’s Future, prepared by Stewart Mader. The report analyzes the ways that transit agencies across the country have addressed COVID-19 and the manner in which they continued to provide and improve upon their essential service of transporting people throughout their communities.

The report begins with a snapshot of how transit agencies adapted to the pandemic in the early stages. The next section is a discussion of new policies and protocols that evolved related to fares, frontline workers, and federal funding. Finally, the report explores the ways transit agencies worked towards getting vaccines in arms.

The bulk of the report highlights fifteen transit agencies that innovatively responded to COVID-19 concerns and issues. In the Agency Examples section, examples from all corners of the country, from Minnesota to Texas and California to Maine, highlights important service innovations.

Coordination in Practice

For instance, the coordination efforts of transportation providers in southern Maine. The area transit providers, from the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority to York County Community Action Corporation, began to re-think of the ways they could build off the current transit network while offsetting rider revenue loss and responding to the pandemic. The agencies worked with the Greater Portland Council of Governments (GPCOG) using CARES Act money to start Transit Together, a regional transit information website to give riders access to route and schedule information for all providers. When vaccinations for COVID-19 became available, Transit Together began to host a Vaccination Site finder; information like eligibility and transit connections to the site was all in one spot.  

In another part of the country, SPARTAN Transit of West Texas provided area residents direct access to vaccines. SPARTAN was notified by Hockley County officials that they were receiving an allotment of vaccines and needed a space to host a vaccination clinic being that just recently they opened their Rural Mobility Center in Levelland. A couple of days later over 600 people received their first vaccine dose. SPARTAN also provided free rides for residents of their 17-county service area to their closest vaccine site. Another way transit worked to get people to one of the most important stops of the pandemic.

The report concludes with six recommendations, reflecting the once-in-a-generation opportunity the pandemic presented to redesign customer’s transit experience, realign routes and schedules, and redesign service options to support shifting rider preferences. The report includes plenty for transit operators to consider during operations and during the planning of new services.

All throughout the pandemic, the NCMM maintained a comprehensive list of how agencies from around the country pivoted in response to COVID-19 to offer non-transportation “incidental” services, as well as a continually updated catalog of the many ways transit has facilitated vaccinations, in its Transit’s Essential Role in the Vaccination Effort table, found on NCMM’s COVID-19 resource center page. Check out NCMM’s webinar series Mobilizing transit and public health partnerships for COVID-19 vaccinations: Practical Examples showcased partnerships between public health officials and public transportation, including SPARTAN Transit. These resources, along with CTAA’s report, provide a good luck into the next steps for coordination in transit.


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