Case Study: National Review of Public Transit COVID-19 Delivery Programs

woman wearing mask on busBy L. Dennis Burns, CAPP

I was reviewing some literature on transit operations during the COVID-19 pandemic recently and ran across a case study of  transit agencies pivoting to repurposing a portion of their fleets to address COVID-related community needs.

The case study, authored by Al Benedict and Mallory Livingston Shurna of the Shared-Use Mobility Center, and Todd Hansen of Texas A&M Transportation Institute, explores some of the examples of public transit delivery programs that arose in response to COVID-19, and highlights how they operate, who they serve, and how the differing needs of customers and geographic areas influence program design.

An excerpt gives you a good overview of the case study report:

Well before the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on traditional transportation patterns and services in the spring of 2020, many transit agencies and cities were already pursuing innovative ways to meet the unique needs of customers with mobility difficulties. However, these services have taken on increased importance during the current pandemic, in part because many paratransit-eligible customers are elderly or have health complications that make them more susceptible to the coronavirus. Many agencies have also cut back fixed-route service for the time being, further challenging customers’ ability to access essential services.

The full case study addresses the following topic areas:

  • Customers and Partners
  • Operations
  • Finances and Budgeting
  • Equity Issues
  • Rural Programs

Case Study Conclusions:

Transit agencies across the country have adapted to meet the needs of their community members throughout the COVID-19 pandemic—and food delivery programs are just one example. The programs reviewed here offer a way for transit agencies to provide essential services through food, prescription, and in some cases mail and package delivery.  These services are geared toward the most vulnerable populations, including the elderly and persons with disabilities. The programs reviewed here demonstrate that these programs can be implemented without interrupting existing transit service. Given ridership is down across the country as a result of COVID-19, they often take advantage of a transit agency’s underutilized fleet and help to keep transit drivers and staff employed.

Note: The FTA clarified in June 2020 that agencies can use CARES Act funds – as well as Section 5307 and Section 5311 funds administered as part of the Emergency Relief program – for delivery of essential services through January 2021. Agencies seeking additional resources are also encouraged to look into FEMA’s Public Assistance program for the purchase and distribution of food during the pandemic.  The success of these programs may have a life beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, as there will undoubtedly be an ongoing need for certain populations to continue to access these services where traditional public transit is not a feasible option.

This case study can be downloaded here.

L. Dennis Burns, CAPP, is regional vice president, senior practice builder with Kimley-Horn.