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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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CHAPTER 4
Case Examples

4.1 Overview

This section profiles four case examples of transit agencies that formed partnerships to implement initiatives for pandemic response and recovery. Candidate case examples were identified based on agency responses to the questionnaire described in Chapter 3 and then further researched through virtual interviews with individual transit agency staff members. The interview guide for these discussions can be found in Appendix C.

The case examples were selected to represent a range of situations, such as different geographic regions of the United States, urban and rural areas, transit agencies of different sizes, and transit agencies that engaged in diverse or unique partnerships and initiatives. Table 1 presents a summary of selected case example attributes. As shown in the table, case examples represent experiences from the Southeast, Great Lakes, and Far West regions of the United States.

Following the table are discussions of each case example, each of which are structured to:

  • Provide background information on each agency;
  • Outline how the agency and its partners identified needs in their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Summarize each initiative that the agency and its partners initiated;
  • Describe each agency partner and how these partnerships formed;
  • Review the different funding sources that were used for the initiatives;
  • Discuss challenges that the agency faced and lessons learned; and
  • Present factors or strategies that contributed to the agency’s readiness and success in implementing initiatives with agency partners.

4.2 Bay County Public Transit System, Bay County, Florida

4.2.1 Introduction

In Bay County, Florida, the Bay County Transportation Planning Organization and Bay County Board of County Commissioners operate a fixed route service, formerly known as the Bay Town Trolley but now Bayway, as well as a demand response service known as Bay Area Transportation. Together, these services, known as the Bay County Public Transit System, serve over 700,000 passengers annually during nonemergency times (FTA, National Transit Database 2017).

The transit agency had faced an emergency situation before the pandemic. In October of 2018, Hurricane Michael made direct landfall in

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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Table 1. Summary of selected case examples.

Organization Bay County Public Transit System Laketran City of Santa Rosa Western-Washtenaw Area Value Express (WAVE)
Agency Attributes:
Location Bay County, FL (Southeast) Lake County, OH (Great Lakes) Santa Rosa, CA (Far West) Washtenaw County, MI (Great Lakes)
Area Type(s) Rural, Urban Urban Urban Rural
Pre-COVID-19 Budget Size $1,500,000–$4,999,999 $5,000,000–$74,999,999 $5,000,000–$74,999,999 $450,000–$1,499,999
Total Revenue Vehicles, 2019 33 133 42 12
Annual Ridership, 2019 453,127 707,856 1,851,967 39,593
Initiative Types:
Provide Access to Food or Supplies X X X
Provide Access to COVID-19 Testing Sites X X
Mobile COVID-19 Testing Clinic X
Provide Access to Vaccination Sites X X X X
Mobile Vaccination Clinic X
Provide Incentives for Riders to Get Vaccinated X X
Pilot Technology X
Partnership Types:
City, County, or Municipal Government X X X X
State Health and Human Services Department X X
State DOT X X
Other Transit Organization, Agency, or Contractor X X
Hospital or Other Medical Facility X
University or Other Higher Education Institution X X
Public School X
Food Bank X
Nonprofit X X X X
Other Private Company or Business X

Source: Questionnaire responses, interviews, and FTA, National Transit Database 2019 for revenue vehicle and ridership data.

Bay County. One of the most powerful hurricanes to ever make landfall in the United States, the disaster resulted in 15 deaths in the county, as well as an estimated $18.4 billion in damage (Bay Town Trolley Transit 2021). Bay County Public Transit System worked together with various community partners, including the Bay County Health Department, Bay County Emergency Operations Center (EOC), Bay County Council on Aging (COA), and Bay District Schools, to fill immediate and longer-term emergency needs, such as assisting with rescue operations, clearing debris, and transporting residents to food-distribution locations. Within 11 days of Hurricane

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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Michael making landfall in Bay County, the transit system was back up and running, restoring regular and reliable transit service to a recovering community.

In March of 2020, efforts to rebuild from the hurricane were still largely underway when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Bay County Public Transit System leveraged the connections that were formed or strengthened during Hurricane Michael to quickly step in to serve the community. With its partners, Bay County Public Transit System implemented initiatives to connect limited-mobility and otherwise in-need residents to food sites, COVID-19 testing sites, and vaccinations, including the operation of a mobile clinic to reach homebound residents to provide COVID-19 testing and administer vaccinations.

Bay County Public Transit System’s previous experience responding to emergency situations, the partnerships that formed with those responses, and a proactive emergency response plan contributed to a well-coordinated effort to meet the needs of vulnerable members of the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

4.2.2 Identifying Community Needs

When the public health crisis first emerged, the Bay County Health Department and the EOC were primarily responsible for assessing and identifying the community’s needs. These agencies immediately recognized that there were homebound residents throughout the county, many with no access to food or transportation, and that the pandemic suddenly restricted many of the regular operations of social services agencies.

To identify where these homebound or otherwise in-need residents were located, county departments and social services agencies compared their lists of who they help with the goal of compiling a comprehensive list of community members in need of assistance. Bay County Public Transit System maintains a list of demand response clients, including information on individuals’ specific needs, such as medical issues and mobility constraints, that they may share with medical agencies or other emergency response or relief providers during a state of emergency. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the transit agency shared this list with the Bay County Department of Health, EOC, and other community partners to assemble a more complete list of residents in need.

4.2.3 Initiatives

With an understanding of the community’s needs, Bay County Public Transit System and its partners coordinated and implemented various initiatives to provide Bay County residents with access to COVID-19 testing, vaccination, and food.

Provided Access to COVID-19 Testing

The Bay County Health Department and EOC held meetings with various county departments, including Bay County Public Transit System, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to coordinate responses. At one of these meetings, the county manager approached Bay County Public Transit System for assistance connecting residents with COVID-19 testing sites. The transit agency, in coordination with the EOC and the health department, quickly established a free shuttle bus route using a demand response vehicle that transported

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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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riders from nearby bus stops to the COVID-19 testing sites located at the Bay County COA’s complex and the Callaway Arts and Conference Center.

Mobile COVID-19 Testing Clinic

In addition to transporting community members to and from COVID-19 testing sites, Bay County Public Transit System partnered with the COA to establish a mobile testing clinic to reach homebound people. Bay County Public Transit System provided vehicles and drivers for the clinic, the COA contacted and coordinated with homebound residents, and the Bay County Health Department provided nurses to administer the tests.

Provided Access to Food

Bay County Public Transit System also provided a demand response shuttle to transport residents to food-distribution sites. During Hurricane Michael, all school-aged children living in Bay County, regardless of their school enrollment, became eligible for free lunches, and Bay County Public Transit System helped to transport students and their guardians to and from food-distribution sites. This initiative was extended due to the pandemic and remains current.

Additionally, the transit agency delivered meals to in-need residents using paratransit vehicles. This meal-delivery program primarily served community members with limited mobility, including older adults, veterans, and other persons with disabilities. Bay County Public Transit System also helped the COA in transporting respite patients (i.e., those with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and so forth) and other older, in-need adults to programs supplying older adults with food and necessary care.

Provided Access to Vaccination Sites

Once vaccinations became available, Bay County Public Transit System expanded on the existing initiatives to provide access to vaccination sites. Community partners, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approached Bay County Public Transit System requesting help with transporting vulnerable community members to vaccination sites. Bay County Public Transit System responded by providing demand response service to connect approximately 500 veterans experiencing homelessness to vaccination sites.

Mobile Vaccination Clinic

The mobile COVID-19 testing clinic was so successful in reaching homebound residents in the county that it led to the creation of the mobile vaccination clinic. Similar to the mobile testing clinic, transit vehicles and drivers transported nurses to mobility-restricted members of the community to administer COVID-19 vaccinations.

4.2.4 Partnerships Involved

Bay County Public Transit System coordinated with a variety of community partners to successfully implement their initiatives. These partnerships had been formed previously, some in response to Hurricane Michael, and were strengthened with the emergence of the pandemic. The partner organizations led in identifying community needs and designing the initiatives to respond, while Bay County Public Transit System made itself ready to assist by communicating its availability and offering resources.

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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Local, State, and Federal Government

The local county government, specifically the Bay County Health Department and the Bay County EOC, played an active role in each of the described initiatives. Bay County Public Transit System established a connection with these partners during Hurricane Michael and formed a closer working relationship when coordinating a response to the pandemic. The transit agency also coordinated with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to provide equitable access to vaccinations; the two agencies previously worked together to address equity issues within the county. Bay County Public Transit System also had a working relationship with the state health and human services department as a result of the hurricane, which continued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bay County COA

Bay County Public Transit System has long had a close working relationship with the COA, partially because the COA was the original provider of public transportation within Bay County. The COA administers the Meals on Wheels program within the county, which contributed its list of recipients when identifying homebound residents throughout the county. Prior to working together to provide access to food, COVID-19 testing, and vaccinations, Bay County Public Transit System had previously assisted the COA in providing transit services for older adults to respite programs.

Bay District Schools

Bay County Public Transit System formed a relationship with Bay District Schools as a result of Hurricane Michael when the Bay County Public Transit System assisted in transporting public school students and their guardians to food-distribution sites for free meals provided by the local schools. This coordination to transport residents to food-distribution locations continued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

4.2.5 Funding Sources

Bay County Public Transit System leveraged a variety of funding sources to support the implementation of the described initiatives.

Federal COVID-19 Relief Funding

Both federal and state COVID-19 relief funds from the CARES Act and ARPA were significant financial resources for the transit agency during the pandemic. The CARES Act was the largest funding source that Bay County Public Transit System used to cover transit-related expenses for pandemic response. In FY 2021, Bay County Public Transit System was awarded approximately $6.1 million to be distributed over a 3-year period from the CARES Act to cover costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bay County Public Transit System has a financial coordinator who applied for the relief funding. Though Bay County Public Transit System experienced some eligibility issues during the first round of the CARES Act, restrictions on eligible expenses later loosened for the use of CARES Act funding.

Regular Federal, State, and Local Funding

Bay County Public Transit System made use of their routine state and federal funding, which they receive through FTA Urbanized Area Formula Grants (5307); Bus and Bus Facility Formula Grants (5339); and Section 5311 and 5310 Formula Grants to maintain transit service and

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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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support incidental use initiatives. The transit agency also leveraged funds from their regular local funding sources, which include annual contributions from municipalities within Bay County, farebox revenue, and advertising revenue.

FEMA Funding

Due to the continued recovery from Hurricane Michael in the area, Bay County was able to use FEMA funding to support transit expenses during these overlapping emergencies.

4.2.6 Overcoming Challenges and Lessons Learned

The emergence of the pandemic was a novel situation that no transit agency has experienced, bringing with it a unique set of challenges. The most significant challenge that Bay County Public Transit System faced during the COVID-19 pandemic was figuring out how to protect their employees and riders from getting sick, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic when limited information about the virus was available. While the agency typically has enough staff and drivers to accommodate transportation needs, the agency had drivers fall ill during the pandemic and faced higher turnover and staffing shortages at times; transit’s role in Bay County expanded during the pandemic, and drivers who remained healthy and available frequently worked overtime.

Lamar Hobbs, transit program administrator for the Bay County Public Transit System, emphasized that, when faced with staffing issues during an emergency, it is important to remain sympathetic and aware of the needs of staff members. Transit staff and drivers are also members of the community experiencing the crisis; some may be experiencing personal loss or hardship and may be dependent on some of the community assistance programs that the transit agency is supporting. It is vital to maintain an understanding and supportive workplace when experiencing an emergency.

4.2.7 Readiness and Success Factors

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic being an unexpected and novel emergency situation, Bay County Public Transit’s previous experiences and existing capabilities made it well positioned to maintain its regular service and take on nontraditional transit responsibilities to serve the community.

Previous Experience with Responding to Emergency Situations

The top factor that affected Bay County Public Transit System’s readiness to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic was the county’s previous experience responding to emergency situations. When Hurricane Michael devastated Bay County in 2018, it required the coordinated response of different community organizations, giving these agencies real experience to learn what is necessary during an emergency.

Bay County Public Transit System has also aided in emergency response to wildfires. During one event, the transit agency assisted emergency responders in the evacuation of 88 people, some with limited mobility, from a veterans’ home that stood in the path of the fire.

Mr. Hobbs expressed that emergencies make the agency aware of the scope of services that the agency can provide. Though no transit agency

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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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ever wishes for their community to face an emergency, these situations can be learning experiences that teach the agency how to organize their resources and handle financial reserves. Emergencies also show the agency the organizations in the community that the agency can work with and rely on.

Strong Existing Partnerships

The partnerships that Bay County Public Transit System formed with local government agencies and nonprofits prior to the pandemic allowed for a quicker, more organized, and coordinated response. While many of these partnerships formed or strengthened due to Hurricane Michael, Mr. Hobbs believes that a community does not need to experience a disaster to become more interconnected. According to Mr. Hobbs, transit agencies should work to have institutional infrastructure in place to be engaged with their communities and aware of their changing needs. He suggests that transit agencies be proactive in fostering connections with a variety of community organizations. Transit agencies should maintain up-to-date contact information, regular contact, and a working relationship with other public and private organizations within the community; this way, partnership mechanisms are in place before an emergency situation arises.

Institutional Capabilities and Emergency Response Plan

Bay County Public Transit System had the appropriate capabilities within its organization to allow for the quick and organized leveraging of resources in response to the pandemic. Important funding-related institutional capabilities to have in place for emergency situations include:

  • Understanding how to apply for federal funding, including being able to properly document relevant forms and records to secure federal funding, and
  • Having staff with knowledge of grant eligibility and writing.

Mr. Hobbs also suggests transit agencies have emergency response plans in place to guide their response efforts and consider incorporating emergency response as a part of regular employee training. The plan should serve as a framework within the agency for how to set and accomplish goals during an emergency. The following are items that transit agencies may wish to consider when compiling an emergency response plan:

  • Identify staff roles that will be important in multiple or specific emergency scenarios. Identify who will be making phone calls and to whom, who will coordinate staffing during the emergency, and who will be driving vehicles.
  • Identify when it may be necessary to change fares and outline a plan to do so.
  • Maintain current contact information for suppliers of critical supplies, which could include tires, fuel, lubricants, and vehicle parts, as well as generators, tents, and PPE.
  • In cases of vulnerability to natural disasters, consider investing in vehicles that can operate in unpredictable terrain, such as four-wheel-drive vehicles that can drive in mud or over trees.
  • Consider the kinds of steps that will need to be taken to ensure the health and safety of staff and community members.

In addition to those suggestions, whenever it is possible, transit agencies should seek to build a reserve of funds to be used in emergency situations, as regular streams of revenue may dissipate, and grant funding may not be immediately available.

Flexibility

Flexibility does not require any prior planning or coordination in preparation for an emergency. Rather, it involves keeping an open mind to emergency response strategies and learning as you go. Mr. Hobbs expressed that Bay County Public Transit System’s flexibility in handling crises and availability to serve in whichever ways they could contributed to a better response

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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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and greater benefits for the community. Transit agencies should be available to take on responsibilities outside of their typical duties, which could include having drivers and staff who are able to load supplies into vehicles in addition to operating them.

4.2.8 Looking Forward

While Bay County has largely recovered from the impacts of the pandemic and is no longer carrying out its pandemic response and recovery initiatives, Bay County Public Transit System has maintained its mindset of making itself available to help others. The transit agency offers its expertise to other transit agencies that have less experience with emergency situations so that all sorts of communities can be better prepared to act when suddenly faced with an emergency.

4.3 Laketran, Lake County, Ohio

4.3.1 Introduction

Laketran is located in Painesville, Ohio, and offers both Dial-a-Ride demand response and fixed route bus services that operate throughout Lake County, as well as a Park-n-Ride commuter service that transports workers to downtown Cleveland. Laketran is well known for its Dial-a-Ride demand response service, through which drivers operate roughly 100 vehicles to serve older adults and people with restricted mobility throughout the county. Prior to the pandemic, Laketran supported nearly 730,000 rides annually, of which 40 percent were on its fixed route bus service, 40 percent on the Dial-a-Ride service, and 20 percent on the Park-n-Ride service (Laketran 2020).

With the onset of the pandemic, Laketran’s ridership fell by about 40 percent in 2020 (Laketran 2021a). As needs related to accessing food and trying to control the spread of COVID-19 began to emerge in the community, Laketran quickly mobilized its resources to coordinate with nonprofit and local government partners to identify ways in which it could help address these growing needs. These partnerships implemented initiatives to deliver groceries to vulnerable community members, establish grocery pickup locations, and provide access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

4.3.2 Identifying Community Needs

In developing the initiatives to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Laketran and its partners relied on a few data sources to identify need in the community. The first source was the local 2-1-1 line, which is a phone number operated by the nonprofit Lifeline that residents can dial for nonemergency help. Typically, the majority of calls to the line are related to difficulty paying rent or utilities. In 2019, 54 percent of the 27,000 calls fielded by the service line were related to housing concerns, while 25 percent were regarding issues with food access. With the start of the pandemic, the topics of calls shifted nearly immediately, with the majority of calls, mostly from older adults, reporting concerns with accessing food (Lifeline 2022). Prepandemic, the COA supported food delivery through Meals on Wheels, but many of the delivery drivers are older adults who found themselves homebound and in need of assistance.

In addition to using call data from the 2-1-1 line, Laketran and its partners used data from the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to evaluate areas in the county by poverty rate and identify areas that were potentially underserved by the food bank.

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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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4.3.3 Initiatives

Laketran and its partners designed and implemented initiatives to provide access to food, access to vaccination sites, and create a program to incentivize the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Provide Access to Food

In response to the heightened number of residents calling the 2-1-1 line with concerns about food, Laketran partnered with Lifeline, the Cleveland Food Bank, the Lake County Commissioners’ Office, and the Lake County COA to connect in-need older adult households with food in an initiative that evolved over the course of the pandemic in three phases.

Phase 1 was called the Home Delivered Grocery Program, which consisted of delivering groceries to residents during Ohio’s stay-at-home order at the beginning of the pandemic. The process of delivering groceries started with the Cleveland Food Bank providing pallets of food, which Laketran drivers and 25 community volunteers from the Lake County Volunteer Network (LCVN) then sorted into packages containing one week’s worth of food. Drivers then used Dial-a-Ride vehicles to deliver these food packages directly to homes. The Home Delivered Grocery Program lasted for a six-week period in April and May of 2020 and provided over 2,535 families with fresh groceries each week (Laketran 2021a).

Not only did the Home Delivered Grocery Program meet a vital need for homebound older adults but it was also a way for Laketran to retain its Dial-a-Ride drivers when ridership plummeted due to COVID-19. The Dial-a-Ride service completed approximately 1,000 trips per day before the pandemic, falling to about 100 trips per day at the height of the pandemic; low ridership meant that the service had the capacity and resources to meet the community’s food needs. For the drivers, transporting food was not a major change in operations; the agency just had to make sure that there were enough drivers or volunteers who were able to load and unload heavy boxes to and from the vehicles.

Once Ohio’s stay-at-home order was lifted, the partnership to provide access to food for vulnerable community members evolved into Phase 2, called the Curbside Grocery Pick-Up Program. In this phase, Laketran and its partners offered curbside pickup of free groceries for older adults at a Park-n-Ride location. Initially designed to last for 6 weeks, this program was extended to 13 weeks to meet demand. In total, this phase provided over 450 households with older adults with access to fresh produce, dairy, and food for their pets each week (Laketran 2021a).

The pandemic-borne initiative to provide older adults with fresh food has turned into a permanent service in Phase 3, the Lake County Mobile Food Pantry. Laketran has branded a Dial-a-Ride vehicle as the Lake County Mobile Food Pantry, which transports food from the food bank to pickup locations at local churches, a senior center, and a Park-n-Ride station on a weekly basis. Older adults are able to sign up for the service through the 2-1-1 line or through the Lake County COA and receive free transportation to the distribution locations on Laketran vehicles.

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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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In 2020, the various phases of this initiative resulted in the distribution of over 180,000 pounds of food to older adults in the community (Laketran 2021a). In 2021, the Lake County Mobile Food Pantry alone distributed over 388,000 pounds of food to 8,600 individuals (Laketran 2022).

Access to Vaccination Sites

Laketran riders were able to book free rides on the Dial-a-Ride service to access vaccination appointments. Additionally, Laketran established an express service in coordination with the Ohio Department of Transportation (Ohio DOT) and its Rides to Community Immunity (RCI) program that traveled directly from Lake County to a mass vaccination site at Cleveland State University in downtown Cleveland. Laketran provided over 1,300 trips to COVID-19 vaccination appointments (Laketran 2021b).

VAX & RIDE Contest to Incentivize Vaccinations

To further promote vaccinations within the community, Laketran carried out a VAX & RIDE Contest with the help of Ohio DOT’s RCI program. Through the VAX & RIDE Contest, participants had a chance to win a $100 Laketran bus pass simply by completing an entry form and submitting proof of at least one COVID-19 vaccination (Laketran 2021c). The contest randomly selected 300 winners, giving away the equivalent of about 4,000 free rides to vaccinated members of the community (Laketran 2021c).

4.3.4 Partnerships Involved

Laketran coordinated with many partners throughout the community to design and implement the initiatives for pandemic response. Virtually all of the partnerships had been formed well before the onset of the pandemic. According to Ben Capelle, chief executive officer (CEO) of Laketran, Lake County is remarkable in that everyone is well connected and works well together for the betterment of the community. When the pandemic started, the various partners already knew each other and knew who to call.

County Commissioners’ Office, Local Nonprofits, and the Greater Cleveland Food Bank

The County Commissioners’ Office assisted with coordinating the food-delivery and pickup programs in addition to assisting with coordinating funding for these programs.

Various nonprofits and community organizations, including Lifeline, the COA, the LCVN, and United Way, were also involved in the initiatives to provide access to food. Laketran had previously worked with these nonprofits to address the needs of seniors and other vulnerable populations within the community. Lifeline, which manages the county’s 2-1-1 line, and the COA fielded thousands of phone calls from residents requesting service, while also identifying gaps in the community where in-need older adults may require service. The LCVN (previously known as RSVP of Lake County) recruited 25 community volunteers who donated 375 hours of their time to sort food during the Home Delivered Grocery Program. United Way, in addition to the Lake County Senior Levy (a local property tax to fund senior services), contributed over $20,000 to purchase food for homebound older adults.

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank took a leading role in providing food for the initiatives and information on levels of food insecurity throughout the county to help identify possible gaps in service and expand the initiative’s reach. The Greater Cleveland Food Bank donated over

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25,000 pounds of produce during the Home Delivered Grocery Program and 15,000 pounds of food during the Curbside Grocery Pick-Up Program (Laketran 2021a).

Ohio DOT and Other Partners

Ohio DOT worked together with Laketran, other transit agencies, and county health departments throughout the state of Ohio to assist vulnerable populations with transportation to vaccination locations through its RCI program (Ohio DOT n.d.).

Laketran coordinated with a few other partners to a lesser extent than those previously mentioned but with the common goal to provide important services to meet the needs of the community. Laketran coordinated with the state health and human services department and Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, during the vaccination rollout, and with Cleveland State University, which hosted the mass vaccination site to which Laketran’s express bus transported passengers.

4.3.5 Funding Sources

Funding from a variety of federal, state, local, and nongovernmental sources enabled Laketran and its partners to connect vulnerable members of the community with access to food and COVID-19 vaccines.

Federal COVID-19 Relief Funding

Laketran received federal COVID-19 relief funding from the CARES Act, CRRSAA, and ARPA. In 2020, funds from the CARES Act accounted for 26 percent of Laketran’s total funding (Laketran 2021a). According to Laketran, federal COVID-19 relief funding was not only easy to access but also some of the most flexible funding they had ever received, making it easier to serve their community during the public health emergency.

Regular Federal, State, and Local Funding

Laketran continued to receive regular federal, state, and local funding throughout the pandemic, some of which supported the initiatives for pandemic response. In 2020, Laketran received federal funding through the FTA Urbanized Area Formula Funding program (5307) and the Bus and Bus Facilities Discretionary Program (5339), which together accounted for 9 percent of Laketran’s total funding sources. Laketran also received funding from various state grants and programs to support the pandemic response initiatives and regular transit operations, with state funding accounting for 11 percent of Laketran’s total funding sources in 2020.

Laketran is unique in that a significant portion of its funding comes from the county sales tax. In 2020, 44 percent of Laketran’s total funding originated from the local sales tax, making it the largest source of funding for the transit agency. In November of 2019, Lake County residents voted to pass a levy that doubled the funding that Laketran received from the local sales tax to total one half of 1 percent, or 50 cents for every $100 spent on taxable goods in the county (Laketran 2019). While a large portion of the new sales tax revenues is intended for service expansion to improve equitable access to transit, some of the new funds were initially unallocated and became a significant source of funding for the initiatives to provide access to food. Another county funding source, the Lake County Senior Levy, contributed funds to the Home Delivered Grocery Program.

Ohio DOT RCI Program

The RCI program provided roughly $7 million to public transit agencies and county health departments throughout Ohio, of which Laketran received $138,000 to support access to

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COVID-19 vaccinations and the VAX & RIDE Contest. The program was funded through State General Revenue funds, and RCI program funding was made available to all counties in Ohio, requiring no type of local match (Ohio DOT 2021).

Funding from Nongovernmental Organizations

In addition to funding from various levels of government, the COVID-19 response initiatives implemented by Laketran and its partners were also supported by funds from nongovernmental organizations. United Way of Lake County, a nonprofit, provided funding through the United Way Relief Fund that went toward purchasing food for homebound older adults.

4.3.6 Overcoming Challenges

Ben Capelle, CEO of Laketran, expressed that the agency was well positioned to quickly respond and meet community needs when the pandemic began, due in large part to the agency’s strong connections throughout the community and agency culture of regularly identifying and addressing needs through an equity lens. Though Laketran did not experience any significant challenges when implementing the various initiatives for pandemic response, a few minor hurdles related to staffing and communications did arise. For the initiatives to provide access to food, some transit employees were struggling to lift heavy boxes. To address this, Laketran coordinated with the food bank to ensure that they did not pack anything over 25 pounds, which was the weight limit for lifting listed in the job description for transit employees. Due to the frequently changing safety guidance for public transit, Laketran did receive some complaints from the general public related to communications; overall, the agency tried its best to communicate safety guidance or service changes as quickly as possible to the general public through all available channels.

4.3.7 Readiness and Success Factors

When reflecting on the overall success of the pandemic response initiatives to meet the needs of vulnerable members of the community, Mr. Capelle identified several important factors that impacted the agency’s ability to quickly act when the pandemic emerged.

Strong Existing Connections in the Community

According to Mr. Capelle, Laketran’s success demonstrates the value of being well connected to the community. This is something he believes transit agencies should strive to consistently do, and it requires time, effort, and funding. He suggests having staff members—such as communications and marketing staff, whose duties focus primarily on interacting and connecting with the public and community organizations—see what they want and need. Laketran also sponsors nonprofit events, has staff who also sit on the boards of other county departments and local nonprofits, and actively strives to be present when there are large events or big decisions being made in the community. Being proactive about connecting with the community and with other local organizations during nonemergency times allows for easier communication and needs identification in emergency scenarios.

Previous Experience with Responding to Emergency Situations

Mr. Capelle stressed that it is important for transit agencies to have plans and mechanisms in place to be able to respond to various types of emergencies in a quick and organized manner.

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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Coordinating emergency planning with a local emergency management department or agency and with other community partners will make a transit agency’s emergency response more effective. Laketran is a first responder within the County Emergency Management Agency’s emergency response plan, and has assisted in emergency responses to floods, Amtrak train derailments, and even the H1N1 pandemic in 2009. Laketran is also the planned evacuation support should there be an emergency related to a nearby nuclear power plant.

Flexibility

Mr. Capelle expressed that being flexible and willing to shift roles to serve the community through whatever means necessary is key to responding to emergencies as a transit agency. Some of Laketran’s success in its pandemic response can be attributed to the agency’s openness to work with any and all available community partners and the culture among the transit staff to habitually look for ways to support one another and the wider community.

4.3.8 Looking Forward

Laketran continues to work with the same community partners to look for ways in which it can better serve its community. The agency continues to operate and expand its mobile food pantry, looking to add new food-distribution locations that make the service more accessible to lower-income communities. Through the initiatives to respond to the pandemic, Laketran has demonstrated its role in the community, supporting essential needs beyond transportation. As evidenced by the passing of the November 2019 levy to expand funding through the sales tax for the transit agency, Lake County residents value Laketran and appreciate the many ways in which the agency supports them.

4.4 City of Santa Rosa, California

4.4.1 Introduction

The City of Santa Rosa, California, administers the fixed route service Santa Rosa CityBus, a deviated fixed route service primarily serving older adults, and Santa Rosa Paratransit, a demand response service operated by the contractor MV Transportation, which provides transportation to Americans with Disabilities (ADA) riders.

Together, these services, referred to as Santa Rosa Transit, provide transportation throughout the City of Santa Rosa and coordinate with the broader county and regional transit systems. They serve riders of all ages, many of whom are low income and tend to be frequent, longtime riders who depend on transit to commute to work and access essential services throughout the community. Prior to the pandemic, nearly 75 percent of CityBus passengers reported an annual household income of less than $35,000, and 76 percent of CityBus passengers used transit at least 4 days a week (Santa Rosa CityBus 2018). Santa Rosa Transit supported over 1.8 million passenger trips in 2019 (FTA, National Transit Database 2019).

With the emergence of the pandemic, ridership in 2020 fell by approximately 19 percent from 2019 levels (FTA, National Transit Database 2020). Santa Rosa Transit recognized that in this public health crisis, they had the capacity to serve the community through initiatives beyond their regular scope. Through partnerships with various local governmental agencies, other transit operators in the region, their paratransit contractor, and nonprofits, Santa Rosa

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Transit worked to provide access to food and free access to vaccination sites. The agency also adjusted their fixed route transit service to meet the needs of vulnerable members of the community during the pandemic and continued to provide equitable access to transit during an uncertain time.

4.4.2 Identifying Community Needs

During the pandemic, Santa Rosa Transit leveraged preexisting agency practices for assessing the needs of the community and identifying transit equity concerns. These practices were:

  • Vehicle operators and the transit agency’s customer service staff used their regular interactions with community members to identify and address the needs of riders and the community.
  • Santa Rosa CityBus regularly conducts onboard ridership surveys, the most recent of which was conducted in 2018. Data from this survey included race and ethnicity, income, age, and mobility restrictions of riders.

4.4.3 Initiatives

In coordination with agency partners throughout the region, Santa Rosa Transit implemented multiple initiatives to address the food, vaccination, and transportation needs of vulnerable residents throughout the community.

Provide Access to Food or Supplies

For a 3-month period in the summer of 2020, Santa Rosa Transit helped to deliver food to older adults in need. This initiative was implemented in coordination with Catholic Charities, who reached out to the paratransit service asking for their assistance, and with MV Transportation, the city’s paratransit contractor. Given reduced transit ridership in this period, the city was eager to use the paratransit service’s resources to serve in-need members of the community.

In this initiative, drivers picked up food from a central location and delivered the food to 200 households located in two senior complexes. Over the course of this initiative, drivers also delivered some supplies, including PPE, to households. Santa Rosa Transit also offered to pick up groceries from local grocery stores for older adults, but this offering went unutilized.

Provide Access to Vaccination Sites

When vaccinations against COVID-19 became available, Santa Rosa Transit provided a free fixed route shuttle that served a mass vaccination site at the county fairgrounds, a location that was not previously well served by transit. The shuttle ran on a 20-minute interval to and from the vaccination site, providing over 265 rides for residents seeking vaccinations between February and June of 2021. The service was terminated in June 2021, when rides per day on the shuttle dropped below 2.

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The vaccination rollout in the county was a regional effort led by the Sonoma County Department of Health in coordination with emergency planners at the county level and vendors who supplied the vaccines. The Sonoma County EOC and the Access and Functional Needs group were also involved in coordinating logistics.

Santa Rosa Transit leveraged information from the regularly conducted onboard survey to help identify and address equity concerns related to the vaccine rollout. The 2018 onboard survey reported that a significant share of CityBus riders identified as Latino or Hispanic (38 percent) and/or were lower income (nearly 75 percent of riders reported an annual household income of less than $35,000); the survey also provided more granular demographic and socioeconomic data by bus route (Santa Rosa CityBus 2018). During the pandemic, the City of Santa Rosa’s Latino and lower-income communities experienced higher rates of COVID-19. To ensure that transit riders, particularly in these higher risk communities, had access to vaccinations, CityBus coordinated with the Sonoma County Department of Health to add a direct service to the county’s mass vaccination site from the city’s major transit hub, which is accessible via all CityBus routes.

Fare-Free Program for Vaccinations

In addition to providing trips to the mass vaccination site through the fixed route free shuttle, Santa Rosa CityBus implemented a program to offer free fares for residents going to or from a vaccination appointment at vaccination sites throughout the area. Riders must simply show the driver proof of a vaccination appointment to receive the free ride. The fare-free program was implemented in coordination with surrounding transit operators, including Sonoma County Transit and Petaluma Transit, to have consistency throughout the region and to ensure that the whole journey would be free for riders using multiple service operators to reach their destination. The fare-free program started in February 2021 and remains ongoing.

Transit-Oriented Initiatives to Promote Equitable Access

Santa Rosa Transit implemented additional transit service-related initiatives to promote equitable access during the public health crisis. First, Santa Rosa Transit expanded its paratransit area to cover popular destinations outside of the city that typically require a transfer to another transit agency, which helped to reduce the need to transfer for those traveling into or out of Santa Rosa. Second, while the agency cut fixed route service early in the pandemic, they introduced a call-ahead service on paratransit to expand the service to all riders whose typical rides may have been made unavailable on a fixed route (rather than only riders with disabilities). This program was mostly used November 2020 through January 2021, serving over 100 non-ADA riders during its peak in the month of January 2021. Some fixed route service that was cut at the beginning of the pandemic has yet to be restored, thus the service remains available to alleviate the burden of changes in service. Lastly, Santa Rosa Transit implemented the use of virtual tickets on paratransit vehicles to reduce physical interaction between drivers and riders.

4.4.4 Partnerships Involved

Santa Rosa Transit worked with multiple public and nonprofit partners to design and carry out pandemic response initiatives. Several of the partnerships were established prior to the onset of the pandemic but were greatly strengthened by the coordination efforts to serve the community during the public health crisis.

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County Government

Several Sonoma County departments worked with Santa Rosa Transit to provide access to food and vaccinations to vulnerable members of the community. The Sonoma County Department of Health Services, including its Public Health Division, was one of the primary leaders in the regional vaccination rollout. Santa Rosa Transit had already developed a relationship with the department in part through previous wildfire response efforts. The coordination between this department and Santa Rosa Transit to bring vaccinations to the community greatly strengthened their working relationship.

Santa Rosa Transit also worked with the county’s EOC or Department of Emergency Management, the county’s Access and Functional Needs Group, and the Sonoma County Area Agency on Aging. Santa Rosa Transit had existing relationships with the Department of Emergency Management and the county’s Access and Functional Needs Group due to emergency response efforts to wildfires throughout the region. Santa Rosa Transit has previously worked with the Area Agency on Aging to address transit equity concerns for older adults in the area, who account for nearly one-tenth of all CityBus riders and a significant portion of paratransit riders (Santa Rosa CityBus 2018). These partners collaborated on the initiatives to provide access to food and vaccinations to residents throughout the county and helped to ensure that the different initiatives fit into the county’s equity strategy.

Other Transit Operators

Santa Rosa Transit coordinated with other transit operators within the Bay Area, notably Sonoma County Transit and Petaluma Transit, to coordinate the fare-free program for vaccinations. Santa Rosa Transit has had an existing relationship with the county and regional transit system due to their service areas abutting and sometimes overlapping with each other; these operators share many of the same riders, some of whom regularly use multiple transit operators’ vehicles in a single journey.

MV Transportation

Santa Rosa Transit has long had a strong working relationship with MV Transportation, their paratransit contractor. During the COVID-19 pandemic, MV Transportation assisted in the initiative to deliver food to in-need older adults. The paratransit contractor has assisted in previous emergencies as well, offering assistance with evacuations from wildfires in recent years. According to representatives of Santa Rosa Transit, MV Transportation employees were flexible, proactive, and ready to help.

Catholic Charities

Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa took a leading role in planning the initiative to deliver food to households with older adults. Santa Rosa Transit had an existing relationship with Catholic Charities through work to serve older adults within the community. Their coordination during the pandemic helped to strengthen this preexisting connection.

Safeway and DEMA Consulting & Management

Santa Rosa Transit worked with Safeway and DEMA Consulting & Management, both of which provided vaccinations, to coordinate the logistics and timeline for the vaccine rollout and to monitor supply chain issues. This was a new partnership for Santa Rosa Transit.

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4.4.5 Funding Sources

Santa Rosa used different sources of funding to implement the various initiatives for pandemic response. It is important to note that specific initiatives did not have their own individual budgets; funds used for initiatives were all considered to be operating costs.

Federal COVID-19 Relief Funding

Federal COVID-19 relief funding from the CARES Act and CRRSAA were vital sources of funding for Santa Rosa Transit during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, leaders of the transit agency were concerned about funding due to decline in ridership and general uncertainty. Once COVID-19 relief funding was announced and became available, that helped to alleviate some of the stress. The flexibility given by the FTA for the use of the relief funding was helpful in enabling the transit agency to address the community’s needs without having to worry about eligibility restrictions or the cost of the initiatives as much; initiatives became much more possible with the relief funding.

Santa Rosa found the process of applying for and accessing the COVID-19 relief funding to be simple and straightforward. The process for applying was slightly different from what they were used to, but the department has a grant manager on staff who attended webinars providing guidance on the application process.

Regular Federal and State Funding

Santa Rosa used its regular federal and state funding toward incidental transit uses during the pandemic. Santa Rosa receives federal funds through the Urbanized Area Formula Program (5307) and the Bus and Bus Facilities (5339) program. Santa Rosa also continued to receive its regular funding from the state. Typically, funding from the state is dependent on farebox recovery; however, this was suspended early in the pandemic, alleviating some stress from Santa Rosa when ridership fell. Santa Rosa does not receive any regular local funding apart from a small portion of revenue from the county sales tax.

4.4.6 Overcoming Challenges

When reflecting on the main challenges that Santa Rosa Transit faced during the pandemic response, Deputy Director of Transportation Rachel Ede and Transit Planner Yuri Koslen expressed that communicating with the general public proved to be difficult, especially early in the pandemic. The city is accustomed to communicating with its ridership base in person in transit facilities or through signage in vehicles or stations. The agency used more traditional tactics, such as putting information regarding available initiatives and transit service options on the head signage on transit buses. However, since many riders stopped riding at the onset of the pandemic, there was no easy way to communicate changes in transit service or to announce initiatives such as food delivery. To navigate this communication hurdle, Santa Rosa Transit posted a banner inside the mass vaccination site to communicate these programs and service options.

Santa Rosa Transit also worked closely with its community partners to reach community members who might benefit from the services being provided. In particular, community health centers, which work closely with low-income members of the community, helped Santa Rosa Transit disseminate information. The County Public Health Division also played a significant role in improving the spread of information through a website that served as a central hub for information on vaccinations and transit options to reach vaccination sites. The Public Health Division also worked to provide clear guidance online about the safety of riding on public transit during the pandemic and best health practices when riding on transit.

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4.4.7 Readiness, Success Factors, and Lessons Learned

Though no agency could have fully anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Ede and Mr. Koslen identified multiple factors that contributed to the success of Santa Rosa Transit in its pandemic response, as well as a few important lessons learned along the way.

Previous Experience with Responding to Emergency Situations

Santa Rosa experienced wildfire events three years in a row prior to the pandemic. During these wildfires, the transit agency was very engaged in emergency response, assisting with evacuations and deploying personnel all while maintaining regular transit service. Having prior experience with emergency situations builds up a transit agency’s flexibility and resilience, allowing it to adapt quickly when faced with a new emergency.

Strong Community Partnerships Formed during Nonemergency Times

A key factor for Santa Rosa Transit’s success was the prior existence of strong community partnerships. Santa Rosa Transit’s existing partnerships, particularly with various county departments, other transit operators in the region, MV Transportation, and Catholic Charities, streamlined emergency response efforts, as they knew who to contact, what resources and capabilities other organizations had, and who they could rely on to effectively implement initiatives within the community. The experience of working together during the pandemic, similar to the experience of coordinating during the wildfires, has strengthened these agency relationships. Santa Rosa Transit continues to meet with these partners on a regular basis to identify and tackle countywide issues.

To form stronger community partnerships, Ms. Ede suggests that transit agencies should reach out to community partners with whom they might expect to collaborate with during an emergency scenario. Considerations for choosing and building working relationships for emergency response with these community partners include questions such as:

  • If there is an emergency event in the agency’s area, who are the key players?
  • Do these key players know how to contact the transit agency?
  • Does the agency know how to contact these key players?
  • Do the agency and the key players both understand the resources that each has and how they can be activated during an emergency?
  • Does the agency understand how a request for resources may occur (e.g., in Sonoma County, the EOC processes requests from the county to use transit agency vehicles for emergency response)?

A key recommendation that Santa Rosa Transit has for other transit agencies is to proactively explain the role and capabilities of transit to leadership in local and county government; be sure that local leadership has a clear understanding of the role of transit in the community and its available resources for assisting during an emergency.

Proactive and Flexible Emergency Responses

The City of Santa Rosa has a culture of being proactive in looking to meet community needs. When the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged, the agency inserted itself into meetings and conversations to see where they could help.

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Ms. Ede stressed that openness and flexibility are vital during emergencies. At the City of Santa Rosa, employees’ job descriptions include disaster service work. There is a strong emphasis among city employees, including transit employees, that they may be asked to take on a completely different role in the case of an emergency. Ms. Ede recommends that transit agencies be open to the fact that transit’s role in an emergency will likely be different than in regular times and that transit’s role may differ in disparate emergency scenarios. Similarly, she suggests transit agencies be open to different ideas for emergency response from the outset.

4.4.8 Looking Forward

The experience of identifying ways to serve its community and forming deeper working relationships with community partners to do so has inspired Santa Rosa Transit to take an even-greater proactive role in looking for and addressing needs within Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. Santa Rosa Transit continues to meet with agency partners to establish new initiatives to address equity, including efforts to improve countywide coordination across different transit operators and access to health care within the community. Through these efforts, Santa Rosa Transit continues its work to make transit and vital community services even more accessible to all.

4.5 Western-Washtenaw Area Value Express, Washtenaw County, Michigan

4.5.1 Introduction

Western-Washtenaw Area Value Express (WAVE) provides fixed route bus and demand response service to the western portion of Washtenaw County in Michigan, located west of Ann Arbor and east of Jackson, Michigan. While WAVE is a rural transit agency by FTA’s definition, the agency’s service area is a mix of rural and urban, with some higher-density communities. The agency primarily serves older adults, people with disabilities, and lower-income individuals but is open to everyone and working to better communicate their services to the broader Washtenaw County community. See FTA, Western-Washtenaw Area Value Express 2019 Annual Agency Profile.

In 2019, WAVE served approximately 3,300 trips per month (FTA 2019). When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, the agency stopped operating for three months. After reopening, ridership had dropped by about 50 percent. WAVE is now rebuilding slowly and has reached around 2,000 riders per month as of May 2022.

Since reopening, WAVE implemented three major initiatives to meet the needs of the community during the pandemic and recovery: providing free transportation to COVID-19 testing sites; providing free rides to vaccination sites (including a mass vaccination site); and implementing a new transportation technology platform as part of a pilot to improve dispatching, customer information, and trip planning and booking. The technology pilot, while started before the pandemic, has become part of the agency’s ongoing strategy to reengage with its riders and continue enhancing the accessibility of transit for all.

In addition to the nontraditional transit initiatives, which are discussed in more detail later in this synthesis, WAVE also made strategic adjustments to its traditional transit services. The agency expanded fixed route and door-to-door service to villages without medical centers or

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fresh, healthy foods and provided free rides for older adults to senior centers to help combat social isolation once it was safe to do so. Through a partnership with St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea Hospital, WAVE introduced a free public shuttle bus service between Stockbridge and Manchester in July of 2020 to help reduce social isolation and support access to health care. Originally scheduled to launch in April of 2020, but delayed due to COVID-19, the hospital identified the service as a priority during the most recent Community Health Needs Assessment. Based on engagement with the community, the assessment highlighted social isolation due to lack of transportation as a top concern. While the impetus for the initiative predates COVID-19, the hospital views it as an important part of the gradual “return to normalcy” (Trinity Health 2020).

4.5.2 Initiatives

Provide Transportation to COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination Sites

In partnership and coordination with the Washtenaw County Health Department, WAVE offered free on-demand rides to COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites. The initiative included a free shuttle service to the COVID-19 mass vaccination site at Pierce Lake Elementary School in April of 2021. All residents of Washtenaw County were eligible for free rides, even if they lived outside WAVE’s traditional service area. The AARP Ride@50+ Program, administered by Feonix Mobility Rising, a nonprofit focused on addressing mobility challenges through Mobility as a Service solutions, facilitated online and app bookings.

WAVE and the Washtenaw County Health Department coordinated implementation with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority that served the mass vaccination site in east Washtenaw County. In fact, WAVE initiated the partnership after seeing the neighboring agency’s implementation of free rides for those accessing vaccines. WAVE advertised the transportation options on board buses, through community networks, and through joint marketing with the Washtenaw County Health Department, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, and St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea Hospital.

Pilot Technology—A New Mobility Platform

Starting before the pandemic and continuing through 2022, WAVE has implemented a new transportation technology platform as part of a pilot to improve dispatching, customer information, and trip planning and booking. This initiative is a partnership of WAVE and My Universal Vision for Everyone (MUVE), a start-up company focused on inclusive mobility technology. The pilot was funded through the Michigan Mobility Challenge as a continuation of an effort that initially started in the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan. After the first phase of the pilot in the UP, WAVE picked up the partnership for the second phase. Implemented MUVE solutions include “dispatch mapping, driver in-bus real-time information updates, as well as rider on-demand bookings and fixed route scheduling” (MUVE 2022).

WAVE worked through implementation of the MUVE system starting before and through the pandemic, with the pilot of the dispatch system rolling out first and the public app launch happening on

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April 6, 2022. For WAVE, implementation of the MUVE dispatch element corresponded with a shift to remote dispatching by the agency due to COVID-19. The agency worked with its employees to establish remote desktop and Voice over Internet Protocol calling options. In one case, the agency even used CARES funding to pay for a dispatch employee’s internet. The public app allows the western Washtenaw County community to make e-reservations for both door-to-door and fixed route transit. Additionally, the implementation of the system enabled WAVE to try “extended weekday demand-responsive service hours, both earlier in the mornings and later in the afternoons” (Chartrand 2022). The platform also includes reporting functions to generate data on transit operations and performance, as well as social features such as crowdsourcing information on accessible building entrances. WAVE hopes that the combination of technological and social features, along with the ease of use, will help rebuild confidence in public transportation and support a return to transit ridership.

4.5.3 Partnerships Involved

The initiatives described involved a variety of public, nonprofit, and private sector partnerships. The Washtenaw County Health Department played a key role in coordinating the pandemic response and providing a centralized location for the community to find information on COVID-19-related services (e.g., vaccines, testing, mask pickups, and so forth) and how to access free transportation options provided by the local transit operators. This partnership was new for WAVE.

In the case of the pilot technology initiative, MUVE was the core partner providing the technological solution. The executive director of WAVE, Julia Roberts, was aware of MUVE from their previous work with the Regional Transit Authority of southeast Michigan, when MUVE was a finalist for a paratransit software bid. Beyond this core public-private partnership, WAVE also engaged with Menlo Innovations—another company that specializes in technology, innovation, user experience, and process—to conduct an evaluation of the MUVE–WAVE pilot. Additionally, WAVE worked with both the Chelsea Senior Center and the University of Michigan to implement training to help community members learn how to use the MUVE app. This was also a new partnership.

4.5.4 Funding Sources

WAVE’s initiatives relied on a mix of federal, state, local, and nonprofit funding. Federal COVID-19 relief funding from the CARES Act and CRRSAA provided significant flexibility and additional funding to WAVE—providing a financial “cushion” that supported innovation during a time of crisis. This allowed the agency to react more quickly. Without this funding and flexibility, the initiative may not have been possible at the same level.

The Michigan Mobility Challenge provided funding for the MUVE pilot. The Challenge is funded in partnership with the Michigan DOT and Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification. Established in 2018, the goal of the Challenge is to “address core mobility gaps for older adults, persons with disabilities and veterans across the state” by encouraging public-private partnerships for projects that leverage technology to improve mobility for these populations (Michigan DOT n.d.).

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Feonix Mobility Rising, a nonprofit focused on eliminating transportation-access inequity, assisted with funding for the free rides to testing and vaccination sites (Feonix Mobility Rising n.d.). The City of Chelsea also allocated some of the federal funding typically used for roads to transit in 2021, in response to the pandemic-related needs and challenges.

4.5.5 Overcoming Challenges

When transitioning to remote work for staff during the pandemic, WAVE encountered challenges keeping staff engaged. According to Executive Director Roberts, the implementation of the technology pilot may have been serendipitous in that it provided an opportunity for ongoing teamwork and connection focused on something new. This helped with staff engagement during a time of ongoing COVID-19-related challenges.

Another lesson learned from the pandemic for WAVE is the importance of having financial reserves in times of crisis. As a result, WAVE now works to maintain three months of operating expenses on hand so that in future crises the agency will be able to continue to provide rides while working through adaptation and response.

4.5.6 Readiness, Success Factors, and Lessons Learned

WAVE’s experience, with the pilot technology initiative in particular, reveals three key takeaways for other transit agencies that might be considering similar innovative initiatives in the future.

Focus on Methodical Training

In implementing the MUVE pilot, WAVE dedicated considerable effort and time to training users of the new system—including dispatchers, drivers, and transit users. The process included 12 weeks of training with dispatchers, broken down into 30-minute training modules. WAVE rolled out similar training for drivers, starting first with demand response drivers and then working with fixed route bus operators. As mentioned previously, the agency partnered with a technology training program at the Chelsea Senior Center to help introduce the MUVE app to older adults interested in booking rides. This was particularly important from an equity perspective given that technology can sometimes be a barrier for older adults.

By implementing this technology gradually as a pilot, WAVE made sure its staff had a “safety net” so that people had the capacity to take on something new without feeling overwhelmed. Executive Director Roberts describes successful innovation in terms of “Bubbles of Comfort”: The innermost circle is where people are perfectly comfortable but do not try anything new or seek to improve. The outer circle is where change is very fast but uncomfortable and unmanageable. The goal is to help people stay in the middle circle—somewhat outside their comfort zone and working to improve but not so far that change is overwhelming (Figure 13).

Gradual adoption and a focus on training helped WAVE to overcome interim frustrations that come with any new technology or process. The agency found that building on success is key. When things start working well, more people are willing to engage with adoption. Finally, it is important to have personal conversations and engage with staff one-on-one where needed to provide support and reassurance.

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Image
Figure 13. Illustration of the Bubble of Comfort.

Active Project and Schedule Management

Related to the need for methodical implementation previously described, Executive Director Roberts also emphasized the importance of active project and schedule management for the pilot technology initiative. Trying a great idea is, by itself, not enough to guarantee success. Wherever possible, agencies should break down planned initiatives into steps along a roadmap with partners before diving in. This helps to keep people coordinated across organizations—something that is even more important when the public sector is collaborating with the private sector and, particularly, a start-up—and each organization has its own norms and procedures that can differ significantly.

Embrace Technology and Innovation Where They Fit

Finally, the pilot initiative has demonstrated to WAVE the value of embracing technology and innovation but only where they fit with organizational goals and capacity. As described by Executive Director Roberts, “Technology isn’t as scary as we sometimes think it is. A lot of it is how we approach it. Don’t go in thinking it’ll be terrible, because then it will be.” At the same time, not every technology or partnership is good for every transit agency. It is important for agencies to stay focused on their goals and needs and to have realistic expectations regarding the bandwidth required to innovate—including staffing, cultural, and financial capacity.

4.5.7 Looking Forward

As of May 2022, WAVE’s free rides to vaccinations were still in place to help people access booster shots as they became available. The technology pilot has now shifted from implementation to assessment. WAVE is working with Menlo Innovations to perform observational interviews with WAVE employees and users about their experiences using the MUVE system. The goal is to provide an unbiased third-party evaluation. WAVE is also using the experience with MUVE to frame a forthcoming request for proposals for a long-term dispatching platform solution, beyond the life of the pilot.

While less directly tied to the initiatives previously detailed, WAVE has also emerged from the height of the pandemic with a strong focus on equity, as well as on continued reengagement with riders and community. The agency is working with an organizational development consultant to do an agency Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) assessment that will evaluate overall agency operations through a DEI lens. Partially based on experience during the pandemic,

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WAVE is considering how offering more flexibility for remote work can support more diverse, equitable, and inclusive hiring. WAVE is additionally expanding its outreach to the community. For example, WAVE held an event at a farmers’ market where the staff invited members of the public to provide input on their “dream bus.” Further community outreach combined with the technological innovations is part of a strategy aimed at reengaging with riders and building back from the challenges of the pandemic.

Finally, WAVE is interested in enhancing their ability to understand and track equity outcomes across their various efforts and initiatives. As part of this, Executive Director Roberts noted that it is important for the agency to think through which metrics to track and who is measuring outcomes. For example, through the effort with Menlo Innovations, WAVE is intentionally looking to collect qualitative feedback, in addition to quantitative metrics, in order to capture people’s live experiences more fully.

4.6 Case Example Conclusions

The case examples discussed reveal several insights about how transit agencies form partnerships to respond to emergencies; effective ways in which agencies and their partners assess community needs, particularly for the most vulnerable; and common factors that contribute to the implementation’s success. These insights include:

Transit agencies, together with their partners, can address needs of the most vulnerable people in their communities by filling roles beyond traditional public transit.

During the pandemic, transit agencies worked with other community organizations to proactively identify community needs, particularly those of low-income and nondriving populations. They recognized the importance of providing access to food and medical services, including COVID-19 testing and vaccination. By addressing the broad spectrum of needs of disadvantaged community members and stepping outside their traditional roles, transit agencies were able to promote equity in their communities.

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.

In nonemergency times, it is valuable to show up and be present at events or meetings where community decisions are being made. Transit agency staff should seek to maintain up-to-date contact information and have some form of regular contact with other key organizations so that people know who to call during a crisis. Having multiple staff members involved in forming contacts with other agencies or having people on staff who regularly attend or are involved in other organizations within the community (e.g., serving on advisory boards) can strengthen agency connections.

Transit agency staff should continuously seek to communicate the roles and capabilities of transit to other organizations and decision-makers within the community so that they are aware of what transit can contribute during an emergency.

Partners can play diverse roles—the key is to leverage each organization’s resources and expertise as effectively as possible.

When thinking about forming connections with other organizations, transit agency staff and leadership should understand that community partnerships can take many forms. This can include partnerships related to securing funding, procuring materials, coordination, advertising, staff support, and other purposes. Be open to establishing different types of partnerships.

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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Be proactive about communicating and engaging with the public. This will allow a transit agency to better observe any change in need.

Communication and engagement capabilities can be formed during nonemergency times by putting the institutional infrastructure in place. While this requires time, effort, and funding, it is essential to success in understanding and meeting community needs. Where possible, having staff whose duties are primarily related to communications, marketing, or public relations can improve community engagement. Transit agencies should also consider that drivers have regular, close interactions with members of the community, playing an important role in supporting outreach and observing shifts in community needs.

Transit agencies can leverage a variety of types of information and data within their organization and in coordination with partners to target initiatives to the most vulnerable in their communities.

Understanding what and where needs are located in the community contributes to a more focused, speedy, and effective response to address needs. The following includes examples of data sources that transit agencies can draw from.

  • Ridership surveys conducted by the transit agency during nonemergency times can be a key source of data when evaluating needs, particularly demographic data on transit riders’ income level, race and ethnicity, and age by transit route.
  • Other organizations in the community, including food banks, the local area COA, Veterans Affairs, and others, tend to keep records related to the populations with whom they work, including older adults, people with disabilities, and low-income households. Transit agencies can coordinate with nonprofits and organizations that serve vulnerable community members to identify and locate where in the community needs exist.
  • National databases, such as the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, are free to use and report on demographic data at small levels of geography. Transit agencies can use this data to identify areas within their communities that may have heightened needs.

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.

Those interviewed for the case examples expressed that the flexibility in the uses of COVID-19 relief funding reduced some of their stress when forming and implementing initiatives and enabled them to make quick decisions, which inevitably must be made during emergencies, more easily. Not needing to consider funding requirements or eligibility when designing initiatives for emergency response not only benefits transit agencies but also the vulnerable communities they serve.

Preparing action plans for different emergency scenarios can make emergency response go more smoothly.

For different emergency scenarios, transit agencies should consider who the key community partners may be and ensure that there is contact with these partners; consider the roles of different staff members; understand what transit resources the transit agency and partners have available to them; and consider finances. For example, is there an emergency reserve the transit agency can draw from, or does the agency understand how to access different grants or funding opportunities applicable to different emergency situations?). Connecting with a local emergency management agency or department is an effective first step to planning a transit agency’s role in an emergency. If emergency situations do arise, transit agencies can use them as learning experiences to understand how to better use their resources, identify needs, connect and coordinate with partners, and make quick decisions in the future.

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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Suggested Citation:"4 Case Examples." 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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Next: 5 Conclusions »
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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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