By William Reckley

Planning Past the Pandemic

April 22, 2020

While the focus of our attention continues to be rightly placed on protecting our workforce and riders while providing essential service, the unprecedented CARES Act has given transit systems across the country tremendous resources to support our communities. CTAA is continually monitoring the federal response to this crisis and has written up some advice for State-Managed Transit Grant Programs (PDF) and how small-urban and rural transit systems can access these new funds.

The events of the past few weeks have altered the lives of most Americans and drastically changed the landscape for public transit. Systems across the country have adjusted service, transformed vehicles, and supported their communities with new initiatives. The CARES Act has given rural and urban transit operators $25 billion in additional formula-based funding, over double the annual regular allocation for some systems. By pausing to find a new baseline, our transit systems can plan for the future and take this as an opportunity to build improved, more resilient systems.

1. Establish your new baseline.

  • What is your essential service? Just like we can use sneckdowns to see actual used street space, we can use this new service level to see what the baseline needs are. Gather as much service level data as you can from these times to help inform and back up your decisions in the future. Are your most popular routes what you thought they were? Did you run into any unexpected push-back for reducing service? Have you had to increase service anywhere or to new locations?

  • Have you altered your service or added any new services that have become well-used? Schedules have been adjusted and systems across the country have created new services, such as on-demand pilots and grocery delivery, to help meet community needs. Now is the time to determine if these changes are purely crisis-related, or if they will be needed for the foreseeable future.

  • New partnerships are arising to meet the needs of communities. These partnerships can grow into transformative programs for your community. Think of other ways the new cross-sector partnerships can be used, we all know public health and transportation are closely intertwined. Cement the new relationships you may have made, and leverage old ones by making new connections.

2. Plan for the near future.

  • It does not need to be said that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for a long time. Planning for administrative leave and other lasting effects will be crucial. The effects of stay-at-home orders and telework may depress ridership and farebox revenue well after this initial crisis is over. CARES Act funding does not have a time limit. It may make sense to temporarily rebalance your resources to fill funding gaps that might last a while. Now is the time to try new things to meet the changing needs of your riders.

  • As systems gradually return services, there may be more stigmas than before. Increased cleaning regimes will need to be continued long after the pandemic to build back public confidence, and systems may opt to provide hand sanitizer to riders. Drivers and transit workers will still need personal protective equipment (PPE). The wearing of masks in public may be necessary for an extended period, so systems may want to provide basic masks for riders who do not have one. CARES Act funding should be used to ensure that our communities maintain trust in their systems.

  • Who was left out? Not all transportation providers received funding through The CARES Act. There may be new needs that arise in the coming months. Section 5310 recipients and others may need help during this time, reach out and see how you can work to fill any gaps that may come to be.

3. Take the opportunity.

  • Take this as an opportunity to do some of the things you’ve been planning on doing. The coronavirus did not make all of our other problems go away. Use this chaos as a chance to introduce new ideas and use your new baseline service to make the beneficial route or schedule changes that become apparent. Now is the time to present the bold ideas that will move your community forward.

  • Make your system more resilient for when something like this happens again. We have learned a lot during this crisis, we should use it to create better systems. Walking and biking have been crucial during this pandemic. Take this as an opportunity to improve pedestrian and bicycle facilities, or introduce new policies that can make it easier for bikers to use public transit. Many fare collection systems were caught unprepared for the pandemic. Now may be the time to upgrade to contactless fare collection or consider fare-free solutions.

  • Work as a region. We are all experiencing the same crisis, and all have new ideas. Talk with your area transit operators and work together. Look at the plans that your community has already drawn up and see what makes sense to do now. Your local comprehensive plans and statewide transportation plans are still valid and offer a great framework to go off of.

Making smart and informed decisions now will help in the future, and the chaos of the moment can help usher in bold changes. There will be long-lasting implications from this, which we need to plan for, and we now have additional resources to do so. CTAA is focused on making the most from The CARES Act. Continue checking our COVID-19 resource page on how we’re beginning to work with our members to plan for the new normal. Have you already begun thinking about these things? Share your ideas with us! Reach out to me at reckley@ctaa.org, or any of our staff, as we would welcome the opportunity to listen about your potential plans.

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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.