Lack of adequate transportation is one of the major logistical challenges facing cities in their COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Without it, society’s most vulnerable — low-income groups, seniors and those with limited mobility — could miss their shot at getting their shot.
The transportation gap between people and healthcare isn’t new. In 2017, almost six million Americans delayed medical care because they lacked a ride. COVID-19, which has forced many transit agencies to cut fixed-route service due to declining ridership, has exacerbated the problem. On top of service cuts, fixed-route might not always be accessible, in particular for people with mobility issues or those living in transit deserts.
On-demand microtransit is a low-risk way to fill this transportation gap. Transit agencies without existing programs can still create vaccine-specific services, which will help secure the necessary transportation for those in need, while almost serving as a pilot for more generalized microtransit.
How do they do this? On-demand microtransit is flexible and adaptable, which means there’s no one answer.
Our partner Rhine-Neckar Transport (rnv) in Mannheim, Germany is borrowing two vehicles from its on-demand microtransit fleet for vaccine transport. The vehicles are still part of the microtransit system but are blocked off for the temporary service. By redirecting resources from one service to another, transit agencies can put their underutilized fleet to good use without having to make any capital expenditures.
Star Transit in Texas created pop-up zones outside it’s regular microtransit coverage area for those with confirmed vaccination appointments, added a Saturday service to meet demand, and is allowing riders to travel to any vaccination site in its coverage area. These ad-hoc zones can easily be scaled up or down and created through the on-demand platform that could be particularly useful in rural communities, which often lacks public transportation.
In nearby Lubbock, the Citibus vaccination service must be booked at least 24 hours ahead of the rider’s appointment date either through its on-demand app or by calling a dispatcher. Pre-scheduled rides make a lot of sense for this type of transit. It allows agencies to manage demand and the number of passengers per vehicle, which is diminished due to physical distancing, and gives them the time to properly inform riders about their specialized ride, including any hygiene protocols they must follow, and screen them if desired.
Some other methods transit agencies might consider:
- A combined door-to-door and stop-to-stop service that caters to each rider’s needs in order to optimize the number of vehicle miles traveled. Microtransit software allows each rider group to nonetheless share the same fleet.
- An in-home service. Almost two million people aged 65 and older in the U.S.are mostly or completely homebound. Agencies can use dedicated vehicles to transport the vaccine and medical personnel to this vulnerable group.
- Group-based segmented services. For instance, a transit agency might not want to schedule a senior on the same shuttle as a frontline worker, who is more likely to be exposed to the virus on a daily basis.
As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more readily available and vaccines move closer to where people live, as opposed to centralized locations, maintaining adequate community transportation will continue to remain important and transit agencies may find that what was once a temporary solution has longevity.
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