After I returned from a site visit to the Osage Nation in Oklahoma in early March 2020, that all came to a hard stop. We suspended all travel, and CTAA staff began teleworking. In the Spring of 2020, none of us envisioned that we would be working from our home offices into 2021. We quickly adapted to the pandemic reality, carving out parts of our homes as quarantine workspaces, and using our laptops on home WiFi. In place of actual meetings, collaboration and conferences, we all became proficient in virtual meetings, through Zoom, Microsoft Meeting and Google Meet platforms. Because it was so much easier logistically to schedule a virtual meeting, we tended to have more of them. It was not unusual to have three, four or five virtual meetings in a day. We learned to appreciate the mute button, and our children, grandchildren, dogs and cats occasionally zoom-bombed our meetings.
Remote work and virtual meetings have enabled us to maintain contact, communication and collaboration with our members, clients and customers, but I was recently reminded of what we’ve been missing over the past year. After being fully vaccinated, assessing COVID infection metrics, and receptivity of project participants to meet with visitors from the Washington area, I made my first actual site visit in early April, to the Seneca Nation in Western New York. CTAA’s technical assistance project with the Nation involves development of strategies for enhanced transit services between and within the Nation’s two non-contiguous territories. The initial meeting of project stakeholders upon my arrival was properly socially distanced and masked. We quickly recognized the value of face to face collaboration, and the ability to retrieve, review, share and edit hard copies of charts, maps and documents. Subsequently, we drove through the community, identifying trip generators, potential routes and stops, and timing possible runs. We also visited and assessed a tribal building for conversion to a bus garage and maintenance facility. These tasks could not have been accomplished virtually. They were routine elements of transit planning and development site visits pre pandemic, and as we became accustomed to Zoom visits, we may have forgotten how important and valuable direct personal interaction can be.
Since my visit to the Seneca Nation, I’ve subsequently made trips to the Aroostook Band of Micmacs and the Penobscot Nation in Maine, and the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians in California. Once again, we were able to accomplish far more through our face to face meetings than we could have virtually. Actually meeting with people around a table and travelling through a community enables us to gain a unique perspective on the scope of mobility needs
I am not advocating for an immediate unlimited return to travel and in-person meetings. We must still remain vigilant and comply with whatever guidance and restrictions are in place, but when we are comfortable and safe emerging from our pandemic bubble, we will rediscover some of what we left behind last March.
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.