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Page 47
Suggested Citation:"5 Conclusions." 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 5
Conclusions

Building upon the lessons learned from the literature scan, questionnaire, and case examples, this chapter presents synthesis conclusions, organized according to themes.

Identification of Community Needs and Partnership Opportunities

Given the nature of the pandemic as a public health crisis, departments of health—whether local or at a state level—EOCs played a significant role in identifying community needs and coordinating response.

  • Transit agencies leveraged existing data on and knowledge of their customers to identify needs among their most vulnerable users, including older adults, people with disabilities, low-income persons, racial and ethnic minorities, and people with limited English proficiency. Existing data sources that transit agencies leveraged included previous ridership surveys, data gathered by community nonprofits, and data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • In many cases, direct communication with riders or other partners engaged with serving these communities (e.g., a food bank) provided immediate insight into people’s needs. This highlights the value of connections to both transit users and community partners.

Success Factors and Lessons Learned for Future Emergencies

Early and organized planning and coordination, wherever possible, contribute to success with new initiatives.

  • Transit agencies with strong, preexisting relationships with partner organizations within their communities were best positioned to pivot and respond to the pandemic.
  • Clear communication, whether internal, with agency partners, or the public, was paramount.
  • The implementation of nontraditional transit initiatives led to greater recognition of transit’s role in emergency response situations in many communities.

Federal Policy, Regulations, and Funding

  • The stark initial decrease in transit ridership early in the pandemic followed by ridership that remains below prepandemic levels has led to losses in fare revenue, resulting in funding gaps for transit agencies. In response, the federal government passed a series of laws providing emergency relief funding, including FTA funds for public transit agencies.
  • Some transit agencies reported challenges in accessing and understanding the allowed uses of COVID-19 relief funding.
  • On the other hand, the flexibility of relief funding, including the ability to use federal transit funds for incidental use of transit assets, was valuable in enabling innovation and quick response during the pandemic.

Page 48
Suggested Citation:"5 Conclusions." 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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Data Collection and Evaluation of Initiative Outcomes
  • Data collection and evaluation of pandemic response initiative outcomes were not the core focuses of transit agencies who prioritized support for the communities during an emergency.
  • Nevertheless, some agencies have collected data primarily focused on service metrics such as people served or meals delivered. This type of data collection provided basic metrics, allowing transit agencies to track outcomes. However, additional data collection—focused on demographics—could enable transit agencies to monitor equity outcomes more thoroughly.
  • In addition to quantitative data, qualitative feedback, gained through interviews and community outreach, is valuable for understanding the impact of an initiative, as well as how transit agencies can continue to serve and reengage with riders in the future.

Directions for Future Action and Research

  • 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—many of whom are also transportation disadvantaged. As transit agencies build toward recovery and rethink or reimagine their operations, they should ground their decision-making in equity principals.
  • Understanding demographic trends in return to ridership, including return to or continuation of in-person work, and the equity implications of proposed transit system changes will be critical.
  • Transit agencies will also benefit from a renewed focus, in research and implementation, on how to build effective process and infrastructure for (a) public and stakeholder engagement and communications; (b) equity in decision-making and performance tracking; and (c) emergency preparedness and response planning.
  • Finally, there is a need for the transit community to further explore the long-term role of transit agencies in providing access to social services or otherwise enhancing equity of access to essential needs. The initiatives and partnerships documented in this study demonstrate positive outcomes from transit agencies stepping outside their traditional scope, but questions remain: What kinds of nontraditional initiatives could make sense for transit organizations to run or be involved in long term? What types of partnerships should continue, and what is sustainable operationally and in terms of funding? There are precedents of this type of scope expansion from before the pandemic, including transit agencies that provide goods delivery or serve as hubs for resources or activities like farmers’ markets and youth soccer (e.g., Chickasaw Nation n.d.; MARTA 2022; Stephenson 2015). As the collective vision for mobility providers continues to evolve, there is a need to engage with questions about the role of transit agencies in expanding access in new and creative ways.
Page 47
Suggested Citation:"5 Conclusions." 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 47
Page 48
Suggested Citation:"5 Conclusions." 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 48
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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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