Local transit systems have long been the backbone of urban mobility, providing communities with crucial lifeline access to schools, jobs, medical, and commercial centers.
In the face of impending global challenges, it's essential for local transit agencies to recognize thinking globally is not only advisable but necessary for the resilience of the communities they serve.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of the need for local transit systems to proactively prepare for unforeseen global challenges well in advance of them happening. While it was impossible to predict the emergence of this particular virus, the transit industry had long access to antimicrobial technology that could have mitigated the risks to riders and operators.
Transit agencies could have easily learned from other industries, like grocery stores, that long before there was a pandemic had already embraced simple hygiene solutions, such as hand sanitizer dispensers to protect their customers from germs and viruses. But few transit agencies thought of having this rather simple feature before there was a pandemic. The lesson is clear: local transit systems need not wait for a disaster to strike before they begin to prepare themselves for (global) challenges.
As we look toward the near future, it's evident global events will continue to exert their influence on local transit systems.
For example, there are two evident major global factors that will have a significant impact on transit systems, which agencies should prepare for. These are the wars already being fought and the fevering geopolitical tensions overseas. These issues are poised to bring about considerable supply chain disruptions and exacerbate volatile fuel prices, potentially crippling transit operations if they do not prepare now. To safeguard against these looming challenges, local transit agencies must act now to mitigate the impacts on their local communities.
Supply Chain Vulnerability
The geopolitical conflicts, coupled with rising global uncertainty, have already strained supply chains. Transit agencies rely on a steady flow of (spare) parts, maintenance equipment, and even new vehicles. When these global supply chains are disrupted, the maintenance and reliability of local transit systems are jeopardized, leaving communities without necessary and relied-upon transportation.
Local transit systems need to establish contingency plans to secure alternative sources for critical components, be ready to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, and perhaps appropriately stockpile necessary commodities. Collaboration with other transit agencies and private sector partners can help create resilient supply chains that can help withstand geopolitical challenges.
Fuel Price Volatility
The current political discord with other countries, especially those who are major players in the global energy market, will likely lead to even more volatile fuel prices and perhaps even shortages.
As we've seen in the past, fluctuating energy costs can be a significant financial burden on transit agencies, impacting operational budgets and, consequently, the quality of service provided to passengers.
To mitigate this risk, local transit systems should invest in alternative fuel sources and technologies. Battery-electric and hydrogen-electric buses, as well as sustainable infrastructure like charging stations with resiliency support systems, are essential to reduce dependency on foreign nonrenewable fuels. Preparing for these changes will not only save on operational costs but also contribute to a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly, and most importantly a reliable transit system even in the most challenging of times.
The Next Pandemic
Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic could be seen as “only a dress rehearsal” of bigger challenges to come.
Local transit agencies should explore and adopt innovative technologies that can enhance the safety and cleanliness of their services. Antimicrobial materials, air filtration systems, and contactless payment options are just a few examples that can make transit a safer and more appealing option for riders, even now while there is relative health and safety.
Transit agencies should foster partnerships with other local agencies, industries, and even international counterparts to share knowledge and resources. By working together, transit systems can better prepare for unforeseen challenges and build more resilient networks.
Prioritizing sustainability is not just an environmental concern; it's also one about resiliency. Investing in electric buses, with domestically produced renewable energy sources and fuel-efficient technologies can help transit agencies reduce operating costs and mitigate the impact of volatile fuel prices on their transit systems.
Building Resiliency In Difficult Times
Local transit agencies play a vital role in the social and economic well-being of their communities. Therefore, the challenges posed by global events cannot be ignored.
By thinking globally and proactively preparing for the challenges on the horizon, local transit systems can not only ensure their resilience but also contribute to the overall wellbeing and sustainability of their communities in even the most challenging of times. The time to act is now; our local communities' resiliency depends on it.