In these rapidly changing times, transit agencies face myriad challenges as they work to meet the critical mobility needs of essential workers and the general public. Via
In the face of COVID-19, cities are experiencing unprecedented challenges and the need to rethink how best to support their communities. With small businesses shuttered, restaurants closed, and traditional forms of public transit facing record low ridership, the variety of challenges that city leaders need to address is seemingly endless.
And yet, there’s one critical consideration that must be addressed immediately: how to meet the transportation needs of essential workers and ensure that communities, especially the most vulnerable, have access to food, medicine, and critical services.
In these rapidly changing times, transit agencies face myriad challenges as they work to meet the critical mobility needs of essential workers and the general public. Some are attempting to provide typical levels of service while coping with a shortage of drivers and other workers. Others are making the difficult decision to reduce or eliminate service on certain routes altogether.
Some agencies, having decided to temporarily eliminate routes where demand has plummeted, may now have surplus vehicles and operators that can be redeployed for a limited period in other areas, including to power dynamic, on-demand services.
Cities making a change
One example of a transit agency working to resourcefully adapt to meet the transportation challenges of the COVID-19 epidemic is the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), headquartered in Columbus, which is currently working to analyze how best to temporarily adjust its network, focus its resources, and apply innovative tools and approaches to help support essential workers and the general public during this time.
COTA is evaluating:
- Where fixed-route service should be reduced in response to very low demand.
- If there are opportunities to re-align fixed routes to serve critical locations like hospitals, grocery stores, and food banks.
- Whether reductions in fixed-route and paratransit services will free up drivers and vehicles for other critical transportation, like targeted on-demand services to fill coverage gaps and serve essential trips.
- Limiting the number of passengers on fixed-route and on-demand transit services to support physical distancing and dispatching other COTA-branded vehicles to pick up customers who might be passed after that limit is reached.
Berlin and Malta have quickly adapted existing on-demand transit services to meet the needs of their communities in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic.
In Berlin, the local transportation authority, the BVG — which has partnered with ViaVan for more than a year — transformed its existing on-demand BerlKönig service to meet the mobility needs of essential workers. The BVG expanded the BerlKönig’s regular service zones to cover over 10 additional hospitals and limited ridership to pre-approved healthcare workers. Using existing resources and technology, they’ve reduced vehicle capacities to support physical distancing, adapting quickly within one week to get the service up and running.
Similarly, in Malta, “Cool” extended its on-demand service zone to the entire island in just two days, and adapted in two critical ways: first, rides, typically shared, are now private-only to support physical distancing; and second, grocery stores and other small businesses can now use the Cool app to dispatch food and other essential goods for delivery. Cool drivers can see whether their dispatched trip is for a delivery or a private ride within their app. While all passenger trips are now private, the service’s technology allows all deliveries to be shared to increase efficiency.
New solutions to new problems
Cities and transit agencies across the globe are rapidly adapting to support their communities during the COVID-19 epidemic. Providing safe and efficient mobility is critical to assuring that essential workers can reach their jobs, and everyone can access food, medicine, and other critical goods and services. As we continue to work through these challenges, it’s imperative that we be flexible, develop new solutions to new problems, and adapt existing resources to meet the current needs of our communities.
Dan Berkovits is the Director of Strategy at Via
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