Executives discuss the shifts in approach to operational planning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. - Photo: Unsplash

Executives discuss the shifts in approach to operational planning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo: Unsplash

How did the pandemic impact your agency’s operational planning for both the short- and long-term future?

Darrell E. Johnson, CEO, Orange County Transportation Authority

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It became abundantly clear during the pandemic that, although ridership fell by as much as 70%, thousands of people in Orange County never stopped relying on OC Bus to reach essential jobs and medical services. Right now, OCTA is focused on gradually, safely restoring bus service to meet immediate needs. Long-term, we launched a comprehensive OC bus restructuring study to reflect changes in demand, travel patterns, and funding, ensuring optimum efficiency for our future.

Noah S. Berger, Administrator, Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority

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COVID-19 has radically transformed the paradigm for how transit promotes and markets itself. We can no longer rely on word of mouth, or wait for all of our once loyal riders to come back. We must be “in your face,” increase our visibility, and be present in the community. Just blending in is no longer viable — we must stand out so that all potential new riders see us and see how we can serve them.

Steve Bland, CEO, WeGo Public Transit

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In the weeks immediately following the onset of the pandemic, we reduced service levels reflecting both significantly reduced ridership and the need to protect our most vulnerable employees. Over the past six months, we’ve extended service hours and improved off-peak frequency on our busiest routes. Longer term, we’ll continue to build up our ‘all-day/all-week’ network with planned service expansion in spring 2022, and will continue monitoring regional travel trends before restoring express services.

Jeffrey C. Arndt, President/CEO, VIA Metropolitan Transit

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The pandemic provided the opportunity for VIA to build back better. In the short-term, our focus was on right-sizing our services. This meant strengthening our network by shifting resources to support frequency in corridors serving essential workers. We simultaneously accelerated long-term projects, including Mobility On Demand and Advanced Rapid Transit projects, to efficiently meet future needs.

Anthony Mortillaro, Executive Director, North Central Regional Transit District

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At North Central Regional Transit District, our focus is on post pandemic efforts. Projects are focused on upgrading vehicle ventilation systems, boosting customer confidence, expanding ridership, and route efficiencies to draw choice riders. Our strategic plan includes operational improvements by constructing a new maintenance facility and expansion of our headquarters,  relocation and construction of the Taos Operations and Maintenance center, and the move to zero-emissions buses have continued in earnest without missing a beat.

Debra A. Johnson, GM/CEO, Regional Transportation District

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Our Reimagine RTD effort to develop a near-term System Optimization Plan and long-term Motility Plan for the Future was underway when COVID-19 reduced ridership and changed travel behavior. In the immediate term, we recognized that ridership on some routes serving Title-VI protected populations was not as significantly impacted as commuter routes to business centers. This new reality of essential travel and flexible work locations is the focus for our build-back. With constrained workforce resources, our challenge is to serve these needs to equitably bring back customers.

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