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Suggested Citation:"Summary." 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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SUMMARY

Transportation for People with Disabilities and Older Adults During COVID-19: Lessons for Emergency Response

This research report aims to provide transportation organizations (including transit agencies, specialized transportation providers, and other local government agencies and stakeholders) with helpful information and strategies for providing service for people with disabilities and older adults in emergency situations. The COVID-19 pandemic was both unprecedented and unanticipated as an emergency event for transportation organizations. These organizations had to adjust their operations to provide service while keeping both riders and employees safe. This report discusses research findings on the provision of accessible service for people with disabilities and older adults by transportation organizations during the recent pandemic period.

During the pandemic, service changes across all transportation modes, not just Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) paratransit, affected people with disabilities and older adults. The pandemic impacted available service capacity, scheduling trip reservations, service eligibility assessments, use of wheelchair lifts, boarding assistance, and wheelchair securement. Customers could have also experienced rapid changes to service and safety guidance information, leaving some uninformed or uncertain about their level of safety when riding transportation. Communication using multiple channels and methods to reach customers was critical for transportation organizations to effectively let customers know over time how their service was affected and what new service options were available. Transportation service continued to be a critical resource for people with disabilities and older adults to access goods, services, and friends and family during the COVID-19 pandemic; maintaining this access also helped prevent potential social isolation and worsening health outcomes.

The goals of this report include the following:

  • Develop strategies and approaches based on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to prepare for operating transportation services for people with disabilities and older adults in the event of a major service disruption (such as a pandemic, natural disasters, and other emergencies).
  • Provide information that will enable all transportation organizations (including large and small transit agencies, specialized transportation agencies, health and human service agencies, volunteer driver programs, and private transportation companies) to incorporate lessons learned on providing service for people with disabilities and older adults during emergencies.
  • Enable transportation organizations to consider strategies that may address gaps in their service capabilities and more effectively respond to future hazards or pandemics.
  • Highlight steps and actions for an audience of transportation and emergency organization managers, mobility managers, partners, and other practitioners.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." 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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  • Provide mode-specific information to include fixed-route transit (bus and rail), ADA paratransit, dial-a-ride or microtransit service, contracted taxicabs, alternative services (through taxis or transportation network companies), and incidental use services (e.g., meal/goods delivery programs).
  • Include examples that highlight practices and lessons learned across service types and implementations by transportation organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Essential Findings and Key Points

The following are highlights from the report on lessons learned for providing and maintaining accessible transportation services to people with disabilities and older adults during emergencies:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic left many people 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.
  • Some paratransit riders chose not to travel during the initial months of the pandemic because of concerns about their health and well-being. Riders made choices on whether to continue taking non-essential personal trips or needed trips such as travel to medical appointments.
  • Policies on eligibility qualifications and processes for providing service to people with disabilities may need to be adjusted during an emergency for safety purposes. Changes in priorities and staffing for service may need to be made to support service for people with disabilities and older adults.
  • Resources and protective measures that respond to an emergency need to be compatible with the needs of people with disabilities and older adults; additional technologies and measures may be necessary.
  • Paratransit service providers need to assess the safety and well-being of drivers and dispatchers in addition to the safety and well-being of customers in order to maintain the strength of the service. Staffing shortages make it hard for providers to meet travel demand from people with disabilities and older adults.
  • Maintaining paratransit services and critical demand-response services for older adults at levels reflective of normal service profiles helps maintain access and mobility for people with disabilities and older adults even when fixed-route service is reduced. Any safety-related measures implemented for the safety of personnel need to also account for any potential negative impacts on riders.
  • Targeting incidental use services to primarily benefit and increase access for people with disabilities, older adults, and other high-need populations is key for responding to community needs.
  • Identifying existing community-based groups and programs for people with disabilities and older adults can help service planners identify areas where there may be higher levels of impacted populations, their main destinations, and their specific service needs.
  • Organizations can proactively assess the highest need areas as part of emergency mitigation planning; this can include continued service provision to places like dialysis centers, adult day care centers, and local community center services.
  • Organizations can explore alternative methods for conducting eligibility assessments remotely or grant temporary eligibility status for new paratransit applicants over a certain period of months.
  • Social distancing or other safety requirements during an emergency can create challenges for individuals who need assistance with boarding, wheelchair securement, or assistance
Page 3
Suggested Citation:"Summary." 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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    to the front door. Practices that are effective in fixed-route services may not be possible in paratransit and other services for people with disabilities and older adults.

  • There can be no prioritization of ADA paratransit trip requests based on trip purpose since it is not an allowable qualification for agencies to screen trip requests. Customer need for travel, especially paratransit users’ need for travel, should be respected in all cases.
  • Proactively designate services used by high-need riders (e.g., people with disabilities, older adults, people with low incomes, etc.) as part of core route networks and services used as the default during emergencies, helping to prevent inequitable service reductions.
  • Access to incidental use services for high-need customers should be prioritized in collaboration with local partner organizations to understand and address the needs of people with disabilities and older adults for these services.
  • Communication procedures for accommodating the needs of people with disabilities, such as requesting boarding assistance and wheelchair securement, should remain in place during an emergency. Customers should be able to communicate their accommodation needs during an emergency service state.

How to Use the Report

This report presents lessons from pandemic response practices for providing transportation to people with disabilities and older adults during emergencies; these lessons can guide transportation agencies in bolstering the resilience and responsiveness of their services in future emergencies while maintaining accessibility of service for riders.

This report is organized into chapters covering topical areas relevant to emergency management for transportation organizations. Each chapter begins with an overall summary of the topic before getting into a more specific discussion of service changes and policies in anticipation of or response to an emergency. A section called “Key Points on Service for People with Disabilities and Older Adults” immediately follows the introductory chapter summary. The chapters are the following:

  • Chapter 1 introduces the report by discussing the scope of the research, service needs for people with disabilities and older adults, transportation emergency management in pandemics, and a more detailed outline of the report.
  • Chapters 2 through 7 discuss various aspects of enabling transportation access and mobility for people with disabilities and older adults in emergency situations, based on experiences during COVID-19. Topics include pandemics as an emergency event, key questions and decisions for transportation organizations, roles and responsibilities for various parties, personnel and resource considerations, utilization of technologies and tools, and challenges in ensuring accessibility of service.
  • Chapter 8 presents a collection of emergency management strategies and approaches for transportation service provision, safety, communications, and administration. Each set of strategies is organized into sub-topical areas that list potential approaches. The topic areas in this chapter include planning, continuity of services, new and temporary services, safety procedures, equity of services changes, relationships and partnerships, communications and engagement, and financial sustainability.
  • Chapters 9 and 10 present lessons learned from the pandemic that suggest enduring changes transportation organizations could incorporate into service planning, provision, and administration, as well as overall conclusions from the research project.
Page 1
Suggested Citation:"Summary." 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 1
Page 2
Suggested Citation:"Summary." 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 2
Page 3
Suggested Citation:"Summary." 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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 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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