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Page 78
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 10 - Conclusions." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Transportation for People with Disabilities and Older Adults During COVID-19: Lessons for Emergency Response. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27277.
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CHAPTER 10

Conclusions

Transportation organizations were admirable in their efforts to balance service provision and safety demands during an uncertain time in the pandemic; this was true for large metropolitan transit authorities with extensive fixed-route and ADA paratransit services, smaller transportation organizations with fewer resources to provide demand-response service, and specialized transportation programs and VDPs with lifeline transportation services for their local communities.

Many of the things that transportation organizations did during the COVID-19 pandemic might have been unique to this emergency, but the skill sets that were learned are transferable to future situations and will be invaluable for facing new crises.

Overall Conclusions

Throughout this research, a few themes stuck out as key points for transportation organizations of any size and their partners to consider in providing emergency transportation service that meets the needs of people with disabilities and older adults.

Importance of Communication

Frequent and transparent communication within the transportation organization and externally to both riders and partner organizations is proven to be critical for success; this keeps employees and riders safe during an emergency and ensures riders and partners are aware of any adjusted procedures or services to ride.

For communication with employees and partners, regular meetings and protocols are critical during all stages of the emergency—first in preparing and reacting to the event, then in recovering and returning to normal service, and finally in assessing the emergency response. This also creates a sense of shared responsibility for emergency response efforts.

Likewise, strong communication with riders helps in the effectiveness of emergency service safety and utilization and adequately incorporating riders’ needs into the emergency response.

Based on the findings of this research, transportation organizations presently do not have effective means of measuring the impact of communication on customers. Discussion during the workshop with transportation organizations did include citation of several examples of communication media and messaging platforms through which information about the organizations’ pandemic-related actions and services was disseminated. However, it appears that a majority of transportation organizations were mostly limited to indirect methods of measuring the effectiveness of their

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 10 - Conclusions." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Transportation for People with Disabilities and Older Adults During COVID-19: Lessons for Emergency Response. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27277.
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communication (i.e., monitoring numbers in ridership, deliveries, and customer calls). Better processes for assessing how well communications are disseminated to and understood by riders and partners would help transportation organizations respond to emergencies more effectively.

Flexibility in Service

During emergencies, transportation organizations are often forced to adapt to unforeseen circumstances; this is true even if emergency planning is already in place. An overall message from transportation organizations involved in this research was to be open-minded in developing solutions to address the conditions at hand. Having the mindset of flexibility in emergency response helps address the challenges through a consideration of what is possible and what will be beneficial to the community.

Flexibility in adapting available vehicles, technologies, and communication methods to meet service changes and safety considerations is also necessary during an emergency. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this flexibility with resources was seen in providing incidental use services with transit vehicle fleets, adjusted parameters for routing and scheduling in software platforms, and virtual communication with staff, partners, customers, and community stakeholders. While the emergency period is typically not an ideal time to purchase new fleet vehicles or software programs (due to the focus on the emergency response), the recovery and mitigation periods following the emergency may be times for transportation organizations to investigate what additional resources might be acquired to provide improved flexibility in future emergency operations.

Leveraging Relationships

Formal and informal relationships with other organizations are critical in communication, planning, and coordination during an emergency. Many transportation organizations worked to form new relationships with other organizations, businesses, and community stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic to help address service delivery challenges or develop new incidental uses. Transportation organizations also turned to preexisting relationships with local, regional, and state organizations, which helped with quickly coordinating information while determining service and administrative solutions to challenges.

At times, these relationships could also help in locating available emergency funding or supplies to support transportation service delivery that a transportation organization would not have been able to come up with itself. Regardless of whether relationships are recently formed or preexisting, building upon these experiences by working together to create enduring change for the organization can help both in emergency preparedness and in more proactively learning about community needs.

Cultivating Stability

The importance of maintaining employment for organizational staff, in particular vehicle operators, is a point of emphasis for organizations during an emergency event. Finding work alternatives for vehicle operators, dispatchers, and other staff in the organization is critical for morale and maintaining organizational capacity during different phases of emergency management. Riders will notice when there is less service available, and it is more difficult for them to complete their trip. Creating a stable environment for employees in the organization helps maintain a stable level of service access for transportation customers as well.

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 10 - Conclusions." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Transportation for People with Disabilities and Older Adults During COVID-19: Lessons for Emergency Response. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27277.
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Impacts on People with Disabilities and Older Adults

Much of the transportation response to the COVID-19 pandemic was developing incidental use services such as delivery programs, shuttle trips to medical services, or transportation to COVID-19 testing or vaccinations. Often these programs and services were focused first and foremost on providing service to people with disabilities and older adults. While these incidental uses were developed rapidly, many evolved with ongoing feedback from the customers served. Incidental use services showed a direct, mostly positive impact on addressing challenges for people with disabilities and older adults in accessing goods and services.

Equally impactful and more difficult to measure were the impacts on these customers from reductions in regular transportation service in the form of temporary service pauses, discontinuations, or lowered frequencies. These service adjustments reduced mobility for people with disabilities and older adults, customers who rely greatly on transportation service. Transportation organizations must actively work to maintain service levels and availability of services used primarily by these customers (such as ADA paratransit) while also recognizing the potential impacts of reductions in regular transportation service on specific customer populations. All types of transportation services are used by people with disabilities and older adults, meaning mitigation efforts to maintain accessibility and mobility for these customers are important for every transportation mode.

Keeping Riders and Employees Safe

For most transportation organizations in the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic provided their first experience of managing service during a health-related emergency. Transportation organizations and their partners are now better prepared to address a future health-related emergency by providing PPE to riders and employees, enabling social distancing within vehicles and transit facilities, and disseminating information about symptom recognition. Incorporating these actions and lessons learned into planning documents is critical for ensuring that transportation organizations have formal procedures in place for the next health-related (as well as non-health-related) emergency. Additionally, accommodations for people with disabilities and older adults that should be maintained such as assistance from drivers and accessible service should be documented as part of this effort.

Page 78
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 10 - Conclusions." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Transportation for People with Disabilities and Older Adults During COVID-19: Lessons for Emergency Response. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27277.
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Page 78
Page 79
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 10 - Conclusions." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Transportation for People with Disabilities and Older Adults During COVID-19: Lessons for Emergency Response. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27277.
×
Page 79
Page 80
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 10 - Conclusions." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. Transportation for People with Disabilities and Older Adults During COVID-19: Lessons for Emergency Response. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27277.
×
Page 80
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Transportation for People with Disabilities and Older Adults During COVID-19: Lessons for Emergency Response Get This Book
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 Transportation for People with Disabilities and Older Adults During COVID-19: Lessons for Emergency Response
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The COVID-19 pandemic left many persons with disabilities and older adults without reliable transportation to access essential goods, medical care, and social engagements. Issues of social isolation for older adults were exacerbated with the emergence of COVID-19 because transportation service was reduced.

TCRP Research Report 243: Transportation for People with Disabilities and Older Adults During COVID-19: Lessons for Emergency Response, from TRB's Transit Cooperative Research Program, aims to provide transportation organizations (including transit agencies, specialized transportation providers, and other local government agencies and stakeholders) with helpful information and strategies on providing service for persons with disabilities and older adults in emergency situations.

Supplemental to the report is a pocket guide.

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