By Alex King

How Transit Systems Can Continue to be Effective During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

March 24, 2020

For many of us, the last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind, as we work to grapple with how the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is rapidly changing our communities, our workplaces, and our personal lives. As a country, we are rapidly trying to adapt – to handle the impacts of this virus on our economy, health, and businesses, while also attempting to swiftly stop the spread of disease. There are no simple answers behind this pandemic, and there will be no simple solutions. Given this, CTAA is actively monitoring developments related to the virus, the impact it may have on our members and their communities across the country, and talking with local, state, and federal stakeholders to develop and share solutions. Given the scale of this outbreak, becoming oversaturated with information can be easy. CTAA knows that our members and the communities you serve are facing unprecedented challenges and changes to your transit operations. Despite these new challenges – CTAA will continue to remain a resource and an advocate for each and every one of you.

In addition to write-ups highlighting systems responses to the COVID-19 pandemic on our CTR blog, we encourage you to bookmark our COVID-19 page, which will be frequently updated with resources, updates, and news vital to transit operators throughout this pandemic. This blog is the first of many to come, and we want to kick off our written materials by offering selected small but actionable items that transit providers can do to continue supporting their community, their riders, and themselves during this time.

First and foremost, the role of transportation providers is changing rapidly. With a ringing chorus of #flattenthecurve, social distancing and the shuttering of community events, workplaces, and gatherings is now the norm. As a society, our biggest weapon against the spread of this disease is limiting contact between our population to slow, reduce, and potentially eliminate the spread. Thankfully, many who are able to do so, have chosen to stay at home, and we are seeing our communities turn in, when possible, to reduce our interactions. However, this means we are seeing large reductions in transit trips, and a large increase in delivery needs, particularly for at-risk populations such as adults over the age of 60.

The most important thing transportation providers can do is plan and prepare for community transmission of the virus, and implement appropriate responses once that transmission occurs. While there is much to learn regarding COVID-19, CTAA believes the below baseline steps are critical to transportation’s response during this time:

  • Partner with Public Health!: One of the first steps an transportation provider should take is to develop a communications plan between you and your local public health departments. Determine the available guidance and assistance available to you from federal, state, local, and tribal public health agencies and emergency responders. Understanding their capacity to assist, in addition to their understanding of best practices and local mitigation strategies will give you a sense of the best ways to plan, prepare, and react to this crisis. Transportation providers should assign a point of contact to maximize communication between your system and your state and local public health system. As this pandemic continues, ongoing communication and coordination between local providers and public health officials will be necessary to ensure recommendations are shared across agencies, and updated as the situation evolves. Create a unified action plan and leverage community resources and personnel: Community entities across all sectors are feeling the impacts of COVID-19. It will be critical to leverage both existing and past partners to create cohesive and communal response, particularly those in public health. As resources are stretched and supply changes, make sure to bring your partners to the table. Looping human services providers with NEMT and local public transit will be critical to brainstorm ideas to share resources and personnel. Unified messaging and resource planning will benefit all.
  • Support transportation providers who are facing new and unique challenges: Transportation will continue to play a key role throughout this crisis. Whether in providing essential trips for groceries or dialysis (or in the new realm of food or prescription delivery) transportation will continue to be a critical service for community members. Many transportation providers are facing new questions such as driver safety, how to increase sanitation, or how to prioritize trips Supporting each other will be critical as we move through these next few weeks. Leveraging that community network will be crucial to come up with innovative responses to these challenges.
  • Share reliable and up to date information: News and information surrounding COVID-19 is being released at a rapid pace. It is critical to make sure that the information shared is from reliable sources. CTAA recommends consulting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for official information on COVID-19. Additionally, Politico is tracking State-by-State numbers from the COVID-19 Tracking Project here, which while not perfect by any means, can give a sense of the extent of the virus in your state. For those in the transportation space, check the FTA COVID-19 Resources and FAQs for up to date federal resources and guidance and watch. In addition, public health measures such as the recommended 6-foot distancing or calling into your doctor to check symptoms before traveling in person, are important messages that transportation providers can promote through various platforms to share with community members.
  • Innovate your system for safe distancing: As mentioned above, community interventions like event closures have an important role in limiting transition, but individual behavior changes are even more important. Consider how your system can promote behaviors that further public health initiatives and reduce transmission. Also, think about how to leverage either new or existing partnerships to create new or off the cuff programs to limit social interactions, while still allowing community members to access the goods or services they need.

As we all work collectively to make the necessary changes to address the spread of disease and continue our services as much as possible, CTAA will continue to support transportation providers across the country in your efforts. As the challenges and needs become clearer over the next few weeks in your community, please tell us how COVID-19 continues to impact your system through our survey, and reach out to our staff via email to discuss any questions, concerns, or updates on your system.

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The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.