By Scott Bogren

Rural Transit Manager's COVID-19 Roundtable

April 8, 2019

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, rural transit managers across the nation have found themselves, not unlike their small-urban counterparts, forced to make key decisions on the fly, keeping the safety of their staff and passengers in mind. Here, a group of rural transit managers at CTAA member agencies discuss their experiences:

Here, a group of rural transit managers at CTAA member agencies discuss their experiences:

Participants

  • Bruce Morrow, Transit Manager, Cottonwood Area Transit, Cottonwood, Ariz.
  • Jim Moulton, Executive Director, Tri-Valley Transit, Middlebury, Vt.
  • Julia Castillo, Executive Director, Heart of Iowa Regional Transit Agency (HIRTA), Urbandale, Iowa
  • Jill Drury, Manager, Charlevoix County Transit, Boyne City, Mich.
  • Dorothy Yeager, Executive Director, OATS, Columbia, Mo.
  • Brian Baker, Director, SPARTAN Rural Public Transit, Levelland, Texas
  • Tim Geibel, General Manager, Crawford Area Transportation Authority, Meadville, Pa.
  • Kim Angel, CCTM, Transit Director, Macon County Transit, Franklin, N.C.
  • Paula Smith, Executive Director, Tri-River Transit, Hamlin, W.V.
  • Danette Brannin, General Manager, Mason Transit Authority, Shelton, Wash.

1. How has your service changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Cottonwood Area Transit: Our service hasn’t change that much, other than a severe drop in ridership: Fixed-route down about 50 percent, commuter down about 60 percent, ADA down about 75 percent. We are basically down to essential riders. We have blocked off seats in the buses to more strongly enforce distancing, although in our cutaways, this reduces seating by over 50 percent. We have been disinfecting the buses every night, drivers use disinfecting wipes on all touchable surfaces at the end of each trip, ADA drivers do the same after each passenger has de-boarded. I’m working on service cuts as a last resort.

Tri-Valley Transit: Ridership has dropped to around 20 percent with both fixed-route and dial-a-ride; we continued fixed-route at first but, as guidance has continued to change, we have now moved to all service by request/reservation; this is to further screen riders, especially trip purpose since social distancing limits seats on the buses. We have moved as many staff as possible to remote/home work stations. Assigning “one driver, one bus” and even moving when possible to “one driver, one passenger” (i.e., don’t assign a different driver each day to serve a single rider). We have reduced use of volunteer drivers to transporting goods-only with just a handful of exceptions (cars with 3 rows for social distancing).

HIRTA: Our ridership has gone down about 87 percent which was dictated due to so many facilities closing, such as ADC, meal sites, developmental disabilities services, nursing homes, and a host of businesses such as beauty shops and restaurants. However, we are still operating in all seven counties and doing the trips that people need, which mostly include work, medical, grocery, and dialysis. We laid off – or staff decided to take leave for their own reasons – 70 percent of our drivers and 50 percent of office staff, including call takers and dispatch. All staff (including call takers and dispatch) are working remotely except our finance person.

Charlevoix County Transit: We have reduced our demand-response service operation on the mainland to 7am-4pm and on Beaver Island, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., Monday through Friday and temporarily suspended our Saturday service and the weekend late-night service. We’ve seen an 80 percent reduction in service over the past three weeks. We are currently running one bus in each of our three communities, one for medical and one over on Beaver Island.

OATS: We have seen about an 80 percent reduction in ridership mostly due to riders not going and many destinations closing (senior centers, workshops). We anticipate more reductions this week as our state has just implemented a statewide stay-at-home order.

SPARTAN: On March 23, SPARTAN Public Transit initiated Alert Status Level 2 from its Pandemic Response Plan (developed the week). This limited service to non-emergency medical trips and grocery only. We made this decision due to the uncertainty of being able to obtain sufficient cleaning and disinfectant supplies (we started buying mid-February but there was major hoarding already happening in our area). We set a date of April 3 to re-evaluate this decision and service level. At the same time, we implemented work-from-home for those that could and rotated dispatchers/mobility managers in the office which was (is) closed to the public. As of today, after obtaining ample EPA-certified disinfectants (our bus washer was able to order commercially) and enough PPE for drivers, and with confidence in our enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols, we opened up fare-free service for as many people that wanted to ride as possible in the reduced, social-distance-capacity of vehicles – limiting to five per vehicle at any one time but absolutely no more than 10. Our service level has also probably dropped 75 – 80 percent. Even passengers travelling to dialysis have cancelled their own rides.

CATA: We are operating at a reduced service level. Most fixed routes are on Saturday-level service with the exception of our lifeline routes that connect communities into the county seat 1-3 days per week. Paratransit is operating normal schedules but system wide we are down 70 percent in ridership.

Macon Area Transit: Demand-response ridership is down 66 percent, deviated-fixed ridership is down 73 percent. Deviated fixed route service is now being provided hourly rather than 30-minute service at stops. We run a seasonal shuttle for Appalachian Trail hikers to come into our town to resupply and rest; this would have been peak season for that service. As of the last two weeks, it’s been more bringing them off the trail so they can go to their homes. As of last Friday, we are no longer using but one part-time driver (we let about 10 go last week – about half of our drivers) and only running service with permanent drivers. Our numbers seem to decline more each week. Ridership consists of those going to work (essential), medical visits, and grocery store/pharmacy trips. We are only providing out of county trips if requested by nursing home or DSS, unless requested by the physician’s office.

Tri-River Transit: TRT service has decreased 40 percent to 50 percent. We have reduced service to essential service only, shortening routes days and times. Administrative staff is working alternate days to help with social distancing.

Mason Transit: Mason Transit Authority’s ridership has decreased by approximately 85 percent. We reduced service approximately 70 percent to accommodate for the lower ridership and for driver shortage. We have canceled some of our fixed routes temporarily and replaced with our general dial-a-ride service.

2. Are you developing (or have you developed) any service directly responding to the pandemic?

Cottonwood Area Transit: We are working on setting up our drivers to assist with Meals on Wheels. Should be starting this by the end of the week.

Tri-Valley Transit: Yes, we have offered out health care, public health, home-delivered meals, grocery trips (deliveries only, no actual in-store shopping for people). Actual demand so far is limited, although not sure why.

HIRTA: We are currently working with our local Area Agency on Aging to assist in delivery of home meals, and as they develop additional services, we will assist with food pantry and food deliveries. We did one trip for a local group delivering care packages to the home-bound elderly in one county, instead of them using numerous volunteers. Our seven-county Board of Supervisors and City officials have been notified to reach out to us with any needs they have as we move through this together. We are also working with the American Cancer Society on how we can get people to their necessary treatments.

Charlevoix County Transit: As soon as our Governor declare a State of Emergency (March 10) we began looking at how public reaction and legislative action would impact our service delivery. When the Governor closed schools for a 3-week period (now for the remainder of school year), we were ready to offer assistance with free rides to anyone needing to get to the school or restaurants who were offering free or reduced meals for students; in addition, we announced that all health care trips would be free. Once the Stay at Home order was issued, we immediately expanded our free service to all rides and began offering delivery of prescriptions, groceries, food pantry packages, senior home delivered meals, etc.

OATS: We’re doing some home-delivered meals. I am exploring other options as well because the stay-at-home order limits the number of customers allowed in a store and we’ve had reports of long lines to get into grocery stores which is very problematic for many of our riders. They simply can’t stand for long periods of time. We’ve also had a request to deliver commodities.

SPARTAN: We continue to take folks to health care. Private sector fund-raising and mobilization along with area nonprofits’ successes in home-delivered meals seems to be sufficient at this time without our vehicles.

CATA: No new service, but we have become creative with our paratransit service. Pennsylvania funds paratransit well beyond ADA boundaries so we are able to provide door-to-door trips for seniors into the local senior centers (which are closed but distributing meals). What we are doing is providing a trip from home to the center and then a return trip five minutes later so they can get their meals. We have also made our paratransit fleet available for nursing facilities and homes to do similar group trips to grocery stores which are having early morning hours for seniors-only.

Macon Area Transit: We deliver meals in partnership with our Senior Center – currently about 35 meals/day but as more volunteers “quit” delivering, it’s inevitable we will be picking up additional meal deliveries (Lunch time meals only).

Tri-River Transit: TRT has offered to help grocery stores with deliveries and offered to do grocery pick-ups for the elderly. We have also offered services to Senior Service centers to help deliver meals.

Mason Transit: Mason Transit Authority is assisting the Senior Center with Meals on Wheels. We have also been an integral part of the Emergency Response Command Center set up early on in Mason County and are ready to mobilize people or supplies such as school lunches to outlying locations if needed.

3. Are you restricting service to essential trips only? If so, how are you defining essential and how are you enforcing essential-trips-only policies?

Cottonwood Area Transit: We are trying to ensure passenger safety. Beyond that, with the restrictions on the seating in the buses, casual riders have gotten the hint to stay home unless they are going to the store, pharmacy, doctor, or dialysis.

Tri-Valley Transit: Yes, essential is medical that cannot be done by telehealth, critical care (dialysis, cancer, methadone that cannot be given for multiple days) and grocery shopping. We enforce via screening questions, both via dispatchers for calls in, and via drivers before boarding. Posters are also on the doors of buses with very explicit guidance (reinforced verbally).

HIRTA: We have no restrictions at this time.

Charlevoix County Transit: For the most part, we haven’t had to restrict service as our residents are paying attention to the Stay At Home Order. However on our social media page and in any phone message and website announcements we’ve made it clear we are transporting to locations deemed essential only. With that said, we have several passengers who believe going to the dollar store every day is essential. Obviously knowing the passengers helps as we know their ability to understand the situation. We deal with these passenger on a case-by-case basis and try to explain each time they call that we’re looking out for their health by limiting service and that we’re helping them follow the Governor’s orders. We’ve been fairly successful in limiting their travel to twice a week, unless absolutely necessary for them to be out more. However we’ve had to just say no a few times and that’s okay, too.

OATS: Yes, since March 20, we have been providing service for essential trips only – dialysis, groceries, food banks, medical, pharmacy.

SPARTAN: We did from March 23 to April 3. We apologized to patrons requesting service other than medical, told them it was temporary, and specified certain days and times for grocery. As mentioned above, as long as I know (difficult as it is based on information that changes by the hour) that I can protect employees and passengers and the community with PPE for drivers and disinfecting after every single passenger or group of passengers exits the vehicle, then I will try to claw back as much service as I possibly can.

CATA: We are not restricting, but we are heavily encouraging life-sustaining trips only. It’s difficult because some people are riding fixed route because they need to get to a friend’s house to watch their kids while the parent works so there are many variations to what a “life sustaining” trip might be. We have taped off seats in our fixed-route vehicles to help with social distancing. We have also implemented free fares on fixed route to eliminate interaction with the driver and moving cash. Some Pennsylvania systems have implemented rear-door boarding only on fixed route. One challenge we are seeing and others in our state is that now that the service is “fare free” people are riding more because they are bored and have nothing else to do. We are trying to communicate one-on-one with these individuals about the importance of the situation.

Macon Area Transit: Although we have never created a policy about this, our ridership levels show that our residents are taking it seriously and staying home. Initially we did talk to some of them about going everyday as they did before and they have been listening (thankfully).

Tri-River Transit: TRT is restricting services to essential trips only. Drivers are required to ask five questions before passenger boards bus.

  • What is the essential service destination for your trip today? Essential Services Travel includes the following: Grocery Store Pharmacy; Medical Appointment Restaurant Pick-up/Take-out; Helping Someone Get Necessary Supplies; Care/Support for a Friend or Family Member; Travelling To/From Work at an Essential Business; and Passengers with Service Animals Taking Them to the Veterinarian. If not travelling for one of these reasons, the passenger may not board.
  • Have you had a fever in the last 72 hours? If so, the passenger may not board.
  • Have you been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 14 days? If so, the passenger may not board.
  • Have you experienced any cold or flu-like symptoms in the last 14 days (cough, sore throat, respiratory illness, difficulty breathing, etc.)? If so, the passenger may not board.
  • Have you been in contact with anyone who has experienced any cold or flu-like symptoms in the last 14 days (fever, cough, sore throat, respiratory illness, difficulty breathing, etc.)? If so, the passenger may not board.

Mason Transit: We are asking riders to take essential trips for medical, work or the grocery store but have not been fully enforcing as of yet. Most riders are cooperating and are following the Stay at Home order mandated by Washington State Governor. Beginning Monday April 13, we will be limiting trips out of county to essential and will not be running fixed route to our neighboring Thurston County. We will be transporting riders to Thurston County via our Dial-a-Ride service, so the rider will need to call in to schedule and we will only transport if it is essential.

4. What are your major concerns with the CARES Act funding that was recently apportioned?

Cottonwood Area Transit: Just how are we going to access it and when will it be available through our DOT.

Tri-Valley Transit: Vermont has closely consulted with FTA and we just had a second state-wide call to ask more questions. But guidance seems very generous, allowing for 100 percent of expenses to be covered on a wide range of eligible activities, including fare losses, local match reductions, hazard pay, safety supplies, furlough pay, remote technology, etc.

HIRTA: Not enough structure/info from FTA for our local DOT to get the funds out to us in an expedited manner. They are very regulation/compliance-focused and we are concerned this will be hold up the process in getting us contracts and funding. My hope is that they don’t make this more difficult than necessary and that the funds will be dispersed so we can use them in the way that best suits our individual agencies.

Charlevoix County Transit: Right now we’re waiting on Michigan DOT to provide information as to how they’ll appropriate the 5311 funding from the CARES Act. Until I see how the DOT decides to distribute the funds, I can’t really provide much of an answer.

OATS: Waiting for clarification from our state DOT as to when it will be available and what specifically it can be used for.

SPARTAN: Potential complications in the retroactive nature of funds – how do you go back in and apply for new funding at 100 percent. Existing 5311 vs. CARES Act funding. Timing – different systems will have different experiences at different times. Revenue replacement needs – I’m sure there will be spirited discussions on how to do this. Capital Asset Development – is this for regular capital or capital related to the virus. I just don’t understand it yet. Honestly, the sheer amount of money – the Texas share for just rural transit – $143 Million divided by 36 RTDs of various sizes.

Macon Area Transit: We are hoping to get some guidance from NCDOT on this. Our State Association Director is following it closely in order to support our systems with question. Right now there seem to be more questions than answers to the funding act. NCDOT uses 5311 for Administrative funding and only regional systems are eligible for Operating funds so we are questioning if they will disburse the CARES Act funds to all rural systems, and how will it be distributed. There seems to be confusion as to whether lost revenue (fare box and contract) will be an eligible expense. Some clear definition on how to track and document COVID-19-related eligible expenses needs to provided sooner rather than later.

Tri-River Transit: Trying to get as much information as possible, wondering how long CARES Act funds will last.

Mason Transit: The major concern is when will we get the funding and how will it be allocated. MTA was informed of the amount Washington state would be receiving for Section 5311, but the State is still determining how best to allocate as the State does not have a formula in place for distributing 5311 funds that could easily be used. The State has proposed an option and the 5311 recipients are agreeable. There was no timeline given on when funds would be available for reimbursement.

5. Have you had challenges with keeping operators due to positive tests, sick leave and/or service changes or reductions? If so, how are you dealing with these challenges?

Cottonwood Area Transit: So far, no positive tests and no reductions in staff. I have two older drivers resign due to health concerns for their spouses, not so much for themselves. Another driver has requested leave to assist a parent. So far, we are doing pretty well, but the longer this crisis lasts, the more concerned my drivers are getting. I suspect service reductions are going to come as drivers take leave due to their own concerns.

Tri-Valley Transit: Initially, no issues keeping service as staff stayed on. No positive test among staff yet, but a dispatcher called in with some symptoms today so we will see how that plays out. Some drivers have begun to bow out but, as demand has been forcibly reduced, the need for drivers has gone down. If more drivers opt out, though, we may be on the verge of outright cancellations.

HIRTA: We strategically laid off staff, so we have drivers at home willing to come back on duty, should any of our current drivers become ill and/or decide they no longer want to drive. This has happened and we called upon a few on the reserve list. We currently have no issues with drivers.

Charlevoix County Transit: We have been fortunate had have not had anyone test positive up to this point. We did have two drivers who were potentially exposed via personal contacts and both quarantined while waiting for their contact’s test results to be received. Thankfully in both cases the test came back negative. As early as the week of March 9, I had staff coming to me asking to take time off due to health concerns for themselves or an immediate family member. Guidance from our County Administration was to allow anyone asking for time off to take it; for those who had paid time leave, they would need to use their paid leave. For those without paid leave (part-time staff), they would be off without pay. Some of our early service reduction was due to staff asking for time off as well as reducing risk by cutting under-utilized routes and service hours. Once our Governor issued the Stay At Home Order (3/23), our County Administration informed us that all full-time staff would be paid for their normal pay and part-time staff would be paid based on their average hours worked. As it appears our Stay At Home Order will be extended, our County is in the process of determining how long they can pay all staff. It appears that if this continues into May, all but those deemed absolutely essential by each department will be laid off. Transit however, because of the CARES Act, will likely be able to maintain payroll; however we won’t know that for sure until we receive the final distribution information from MDOT.

OATS: Many of our operators have voluntarily self-quarantined due to underlying health conditions or age. We have also had to temporarily lay off people due to service reductions. Thus far this has not impacted our ability to provide service since with service reductions we have enough drivers to fulfill the needs. We’ve been lucky in that, to-date, we’ve not had an employee test positive and five who have had to quarantine for 14 days due to possible exposure.

SPARTAN: Yes. Some operators are scared like I haven’t seen scared before. This virus is nasty stuff in and of itself, but it also has many other non-virus related nasty effects on people. We created a leave code that went into effect on March 23 called “Disaster Pay” (not to be confused with Hazard Pay) that keeps people paid even when they are not working, and makes up for lost hours due to reductions in service. I told TxDOT that I was asking for forgiveness not permission when we created the leave code, but that we had to maintain a workforce. We’ll see if it holds. My concern also was that if we made people take regular types of leave, what would happen when those leave pools ran out. We have to also think about the restoration period, which will require a workforce. If an employee is scared to come to work because of the danger, they are NOT eligible for the Disaster Pay (knowing we have PPE and disinfectant). Transit employees are essential. Basically, if an employee is directly impacted by the virus or reduced or no hours due to COVID-19 related reductions, they are eligible. Of course, a COVID-19 related quarantine is eligible.

CATA: We offered a voluntary layoff and about 1/3 of the drivers took that. The rest were furloughed and we are trying to get the full-time drivers that are working as close to 40 hours per week. We currently have 1 driver off on a positive test. We have many part-time drivers that want to work.

Macon Area Transit: We have not had anyone test positive or had to quarantine any one yet. One permanent employee has decided to take leave for the duration due to age/health concerns. All others have been willing and wanting to continue to serve our residents.

Tri-River Transit: TRT challenges have been drivers not wanting to work because of personal health reasons or families health. Other drivers are working overtime to try and keep services operating.

Mason Transit: MTA has had some challenges. There are 14 of 38 drivers out for COVID-19 FMLA either for themselves or a family member at risk. One driver has been tested and the result was negative. This driver did not have symptoms at the time of testing but had some concerns. No other driver has reported symptoms. MTA is dealing with the driver shortage by reducing service and we have asked the Union for flexibility in how we schedule shifts.

6. What advice do you have for rural transit managers across the nation in responding to this national emergency? What’s been successful at your agency, what has not?

Cottonwood Area Transit: Don’t give in to the panic and hysteria. We have to remain calm and give our riders and staff the voice of reason and calm. Try to keep things as normal as possible. Adjust service as you need to. Keep up-to-date on how the virus is spreading in your area and adjust as needed. Above all, remember that there are people out there that depend on transit to get them everywhere they need to go, especially dialysis patients. Do everything within your power to ensure those riders are served.

Tri-Valley Transit: Success = constant communication. I meet with my executive team every day to for 1-2 hours to discuss every new piece of guidance and its impact, plus determine resources needed and vendors for them, plus monitor actions plans. Communications also includes regular updates to all staff, all Board members, all advisory and partner committees. Posters are put up on all facilities and buildings about protocols (handwashing, social distancing, and now masks, etc., etc.). In addition, direct supervisors communicate daily with their staff on all topics that impact the front-line brought up in executive staff meetings. They also listen to drivers and dispatchers regarding their needs, their concerns, their ideas and implement them. Over and over I have heard from staff and external stakeholders that they are grateful for the volume of communication and they feel heard. I believe, because of this, they stay committed and they feel safe. One other addendum – before clarity existed from FFCRA or CARES Act, we immediately talked with staff about caring for both their physical and financial health and offered them 6 options for ways to keep their income flowing. That seems much easier to do now, with the CARES guidance being issued. But that made a huge difference as well. Hazard pay has also been a success ($3 per hour).

HIRTA: I have a laundry list of advice: Keep in contact with our drivers every day via phone and/or tablets with positive messages and updated info that helps them know they are not alone. If you are running low on supplies, let them know – communicate even the hard things so no one is caught off guard or thinks you are hiding anything. This is the time they need to have full confidence in their employer. We have drivers wearing masks (we used them from our Blood Borne pathogen kits). We also have received a supply of homemade masks so we have them on the bus should our driver prefer to wear them AND to give to riders who are coughing or appear to be sick while we transport them to the clinic or hospital. We got ours donated from a Facebook group called Face Masks for Iowa. People didn’t understand why we needed masks, so we put a call out on social media and received a great reply. We have closed our office to the public. Only UPS/FedEX/USPS deliveries are accepted. Contact all suppliers, like water, shred, etc., and let them know so they aren’t wasting their driver’s time either. Our leadership team meets remotely every day at 8:30 a.m. to go over what happened the day before, any changes needed for the current day and who is doing what. Assign one person to gather all COVID-19 information – like listening to press conferences, attending webinars, filtering through news articles, etc. This allows one person to report at the daily meeting with consistent information. Board meetings and/or check-ins are done via Zoom. The two of us who need to sign checks or approve invoices, etc., have a scheduled day to go in to the office when no one else is there. Stay in touch with all of those who are still working – and thank them. Let them you are there for them and that you understand the stress and reassure them we will get through this. Go fare-free or have a donation bucket. Don’t require your drivers to handle tickets or money. Drivers are wiping down and cleaning buses more often, but no less than once a day. Post frequently on social media to keep those who are not able to ride right now up-to-date on what is happening and how your agency is handling things. Post info on how people can stay safe, so they know you care. Just because they aren’t on the vehicles, doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention. Keep your Board up to date – and your city and county officials. Our legislative sessions are closed but I have also stayed in touch with those who are transit advocates letting them know what we are out here doing, so they don’t forget public transit is an essential service and we are helping get people through this crisis, too. Contact all of your funders – let them know what has changed; especially if they pay you a unit rate and that rate increases due to fewer trips or whatever. They are looking at ways to get through this too and they need to know how transit has been affected. We have also asked all riders to not touch our drivers, and to take a seat further away to keep everyone safe. We also had the CTAA paper on wheelchair securements posted on our vehicles and ask those being secured to turn their head, and not talk to the driver while they are securing the device. As time allows, use this work at home time to review policies, update strategic plans, or do what we are doing and develop a business plan that is based on all that we have learned from Medicaid funds being pulled out from under us, to how to operate in a pandemic – and make it a service that is more sustainable and operated more efficiently. Now is the time to do what you’ve wanted to do but not had the time to do. Hopefully your State Associations are helping, too. We had one all member call a couple weeks ago, and just had a four-state call (FTA Region 7) this past week. It’s good to talk to other systems and share info.

Charlevoix County Transit: My advice would be to not panic but make the best decisions you can at the time and know that with something as fluid as this epidemic, you may have to change your service delivery model several time just to stay in compliance with state/federal/local regulations or guidelines. Thinking outside of the box and being flexible is key; nothing is black and white…see the gray! We expected to see more families take advantage of free service to get the free school meals being provided. We’ve seen very minimal use of the service for that. Helping the Commission on Aging deliver frozen senior meals has been a positive; without our help some of the most fragile members of our community would be without the meals the depend on. The other positive is that we’ve been able to maintain transportation for health care, getting residents to dialysis and other essential medical appointments. Truthfully, for each passenger, the view their ride as important, so in that light, every ride we provide is a positive service for our community.

OATS: Communication is the key through all this. Our association has been holding weekly conference calls and last week we had a four-state (FTA Region VII) call. Drivers, staff and riders are worried and scared – so, we have to continually keep them updated on what’s going on, what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, etc. There is a lot of misinformation out there; so, we’re trying to be the calm voice of reason and as transparent as possible. A lot of emails, conference calls and use of social media these past few weeks.

SPARTAN: Communicate simply and frequently. Commit your plans to paper. Work with your local emergency managers for supplies. Work on your state department of emergency management to address supplies. Find businesses that have re-tooled for sanitizers and PPE. Take extra time as available to roll out online trainings to your drivers. Have your Board pass a resolution authorizing GM’s/ED’s and/or Transit Directors authority relating to emergency modifications to policies, closure or reduction of services, and the expenditure of public funds during Governor-declared States of Disaster. This should be temporary but you won’t have to call your Board when decisions need to be made. Track everything you do and spend in preparation, prevention and response to COVID-19. Go back to January 20 to begin your data. Pay your employees even when they’re not working – we WILL have a restoration period and we have to have a workforce with which to restore service. CARES Act keeps furloughed transit employees paid. What has Not worked: When we went Fare Free, my Operations Manager asked me what we should code those trips. I told her “COVID-19” in order to track the data. Drivers got their manifests and saw trips with “COVID-19” on them and, well freaked out a little bit. I screwed that up but we immediately changed it.

CATA: Remain calm and be a positive influence for your workforce. Provide regular updates to everyone in your organization. Provide updates to your State delegation, local Emergency management agencies, etc. Be flexible in supporting what your community needs. Reinforce to everyone that transit is an essential service and we need to respond in this time of crisis. Finally, take care of yourself and set aside time to walk away from everything for a half hour or so a day to refocus.

Macon Area Transit: I think all of us agree that COMMUNICATION is vital. Communicate with employees. Communicate with your passengers. Communicate – and participate – in the local emergency response, including having open communication with the EMS Director and Health Director – I can’t imagine how I would have made some decisions without these two. Stay vigilant but don’t panic – Your fear or your faith – this passes on to your employees, make sure you are giving them what they need. This is an unprecedented time and we as Transit Managers (often not recognized for what we and our staff do in our communities) are family and we will survive this together. Share information with or ask for information from your peers.

Tri-River Transit: Try to get as much information as possible to keep everyone safe. Remember to be safe, keep your family safe, and protect your drivers and staff the best you can. Get all the supplies to protect your drivers. Let them know you want them to be safe. And just BREATHE!

Mason Transit: This has opened our eyes to needing a plan for pandemics. MTA has a Safety and Health Manual, but this situation is not covered. There is also a need to have a continuity plan for each essential management position should a manager be unable to continue his/her duties. Overall, MTA has handled the situation well through frequent communication with staff, adjusting quickly to new information as needed, preparing early for supplemental leave so staff was at ease, declaring an emergency (though it is not within our authority to declare an emergency for the region, the Board approving an emergency situation gives the General Manager authority to make exceptions to policy in order to ensure the agency meets obligations), participating in our local Emergency Response Command Center, planning ahead for service reduction or cancelation, doing press releases and sending out Rider Alerts regarding changes. The management team met in early March to begin a plan on how to handle different situations as a result of COVID-19. While we did not know everything that would occur at the time, early discussions and planning helped tremendously. The area that has been difficult is the amount of information from various sources such as FTA, Washington State DOT, our labor attorney to name a few. We are getting information regarding Families First Coronavirus Response Act that requires extended FMLA pay and Emergency Sick Leave pay for example, and we think we understand but then new clarifying information comes that changes our understanding. So while we are trying to be proactive, especially with giving information to employees, we sometimes jump ahead too quickly then must circle back with new information. However, we keep telling staff things are moving and changing quickly and asking them to be patient. We have learned much from this experience and, when it is over, will take lessons learned into consideration. The outcome will be a better plan for a similar event that will incorporate a service reduction plan, staff plan and bus and facility cleaning plan for example.

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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.