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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Partnerships for Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26892.
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SUMMARY

Partnerships for Equitable
Pandemic Response and Recovery

Motivation and Approach

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the economy and society and will continue to impact aspects of life for years to come. Public transit demand and service in the United States shifted due to the pandemic, leading to significant challenges, as well as innovation. In response to this crisis, public transit organizations engaged in diverse initiatives to meet their community’s needs. These initiatives, often created through partnerships with other organizations, utilized transit agency resources in nontraditional ways, including for services like delivery of food and supplies; internet provision; and supporting access to medical care, COVID-19 testing, and vaccinations.

This synthesis collects information on initiatives and partnerships that formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The study documents the range of nontraditional initiatives implemented and the ways in which transit agencies assessed community needs, formed partnerships to implement these initiatives, leveraged diverse funding sources, and supported equity goals in their communities. The goal of the study is to inform future partnership collaboration and improve pandemic and other emergency response planning.

COVID-19 Adaptation Initiatives and Partnerships

This synthesis focuses on instances where transit organizations used their resources to perform nontraditional functions during the pandemic. Many of these involved partnerships with other organizations from the public, nonprofit, and private sectors. Transit agencies adapted in a variety of ways to best meet the needs of the communities they serve, with initiatives including:

  • Providing access to COVID-19 vaccination and testing, through transport to vaccination or testing sites, or by hosting mobile clinics at transit hubs or on vehicles;
  • Providing access to food or supplies through delivery services or distribution hubs;
  • Using transit vehicles to provide mobile Wi-Fi hotspots; and
  • Piloting and/or implementing new or innovative technology to address pandemic-related needs, such as cleaning or ventilation technologies for transit vehicles, fare collection technology, and new transit booking platforms.

Transit agencies partnered with a range of organizations, often working with more than one partner for any given initiative or working together with the same partner on multiple efforts. The most common partners were local governments, followed by state health and human services departments. Food banks and other nonprofits were also frequent partners. Transit agencies also collaborated with medical facilities; pharmacies; grocery stores; public

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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Partnerships for Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26892.
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schools; universities; other transit agencies; private rideshare operators; and state agencies, including state departments of transportation (DOTs).

The synthesis secondarily documents ways in which transit agencies responded to the pandemic through traditional transit operations strategies—such as adjusting or expanding service to meet the needs of essential workers and transit-reliant communities or to fill in gaps caused by temporary service cuts. While not the study’s core focus, these initiatives were put in place as part of the agencies’ overall pandemic response, alongside the less traditional initiatives.

Funding Sources

In implementing the initiatives, transit agencies leveraged a range of funding sources, with the most common being federal transportation, state, and local funds. Other sources included funds from nongovernmental organizations, federal non-transportation sources, and the private sector. Many transit agencies used funds from one or more of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (CRRSAA), and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), the three federal COVID-19 funding packages with allocations for transit. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) provided flexibility in the use of CARES, CRRSAA, ARPA, and regular federal formula funds during the pandemic, which allowed vehicles and stations to be used for nontransit functions like food delivery or serving as Wi-Fi hotspots.

Conclusions and Lessons Learned

This research highlights the following lessons from the pandemic to support transit agencies in building their future emergency and pandemic preparedness:

  • Partners can play diverse roles, including providing funding, materials, coordination, communications support, advertising, and staff. The key is to leverage each organization’s resources and expertise as effectively as possible.
  • Establishing and maintaining connections with other community organizations during nonemergency times greatly contributes to a transit agency’s ability to form successful partnerships to respond to emergency situations.
  • Proactive communication and engagement with the public allow transit agencies to identify needs. These capabilities can be formed during nonemergency times by putting the institutional infrastructure in place. This requires time, effort, and funding but is key to success in understanding and meeting community needs.
  • Transit agencies can leverage various information and data within their organization and in coordination with partners to target initiatives to the most vulnerable in their communities. This data includes previous ridership surveys, data gathered by community nonprofits, and data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Flexibility in the use of COVID-19 relief funding supported innovation and enabled transit agencies to focus more of their resources toward emergency response efforts and serving their communities.
  • Preparing action plans for different emergency scenarios can make emergency response go more smoothly.
  • Promoting a culture of flexibility within a transit agency makes it more likely that transit agencies can take on additional roles to meet community needs during emergencies.
Page 1
Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Partnerships for Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26892.
×
Page 1
Page 2
Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Partnerships for Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26892.
×
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The COVID-19 pandemic had a disproportionate impact on historically marginalized communities—including Black, Latino, and low-income individuals, as well as older adults, and people with chronic health conditions or disabilities. As transit agencies build toward recovery and rethink or reimagine their operations, they might consider grounding their decision-making in equity principles.

The TRB Transit Cooperative Research Program's TCRP Synthesis 167: Partnerships for Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery identifies how transit agencies were able to quickly pivot during the pandemic to deploy resources for other temporary “incidental uses” and respond to the need for essential services. Through these incidental uses of vehicles and facilities, public transit agencies across the country kept workers actively employed while expanding equitable access in unprecedented ways.

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