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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Personnel and Resources." 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 5

Personnel and Resources

During an emergency event, the utilization of available personnel, vehicles, and other resources needed to deliver transportation service can change dramatically based on the circumstances of the emergency and the well-being of personnel. Some environmental and weather-related emergencies may require more personnel and resources than the transportation organization can provide. Health-related emergencies may substantially reduce trip demand while simultaneously reducing available drivers and support staff, thereby limiting the agency’s ability to provide enough transportation service. The COVID-19 pandemic had widespread impacts on employees at all levels within transportation organizations, hitting drivers and other frontline staff especially hard due to the inherent risk involved in their positions and resulting in driver shortages and service limitations.

Broadly, it is important for transportation organizations to maintain employment for staff—in particular, vehicle operators, during an emergency event. Retaining staff through the emergency is preferable to losing staff before emergency conditions subside and service returns to more normal levels. 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 notice when there is less service available, and it is more difficult for them to complete their trip.

Key Points on Service for People with Disabilities and Older Adults

In order to maintain the strength of paratransit service, providers need to consider the safety and well-being of their drivers and dispatchers in addition to the safety and well-being of their customers. Staffing shortages will make it hard for providers to meet remaining travel demand from people with disabilities and older adults.

Maintaining paratransit service and critical demand-response services for people with disabilities and older adults at levels reflective of normal service profiles helps maintain access and mobility for these riders even when fixed-route service is reduced. Any safety-related measures implemented for the safety of personnel should be considered 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.

Personnel Needs

During the COVID-19 pandemic, most transportation organizations reduced levels of service due to both safety concerns and financial considerations. A survey of transit agencies in Texas found that respondents reduced overall service by 51 percent on average (Elgart, Walk,

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Personnel and Resources." 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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and Rodman, 2020). Staff shortages due to temporary leave, layoffs, and illness or positive test results made it hard for transit agencies to meet remaining demand, particularly for traditionally transit-dependent populations such as people with disabilities and older adults.

Many transportation organizations desire to keep their workers employed during an emergency even in cases when there is a significant reduction in service demand (such as during the COVID-19 pandemic). Having employees occupied with productive work helps maintain the morale of the staff and reduce concerns about the loss of staff; this is especially important for transportation organizations given the difficulty of finding and recruiting staff. For many organizations, meal delivery services not only helped meet a community’s need for access to food and goods but also helped the organization keep their drivers and maintain service overall; this continuity of employment through alternative actions also improved resilience for the organization in maintaining workforce.

Financial and Lifestyle Support

During emergencies, it is important that leadership at transportation organizations recognize that employees throughout the organization are dealing with hardships that may be similar to those felt by customers. Employees may also face distinct hardships in balancing the demands of work schedules with needs at home that arise from the emergency. Providing assistance in whatever capacity the organization can (either alone or working with partners) is important for employee morale and continued service delivery to customers. If transportation service during an emergency is reduced to the point that working hours (and thereby take-home pay) are reduced, organizations can be proactive in finding solutions that help sustain employees’ family finances. On the flip side, if the effort to provide transportation service during an emergency results in employees working hours beyond normal overtime and/or taking on especially risky tasks that are not part of their typical duties, financial recognition of that additional service should be provided if possible.

For transit agencies with vehicle operators and/or other employees in unions, regular communication with the union during the emergency about the state of service can help improve transparency and trust between the agency and the union along with providing further opportunities to learn about employee needs. For example, provision of childcare for employees and other supportive resources during emergencies may help buffer the demands that emergency service makes on them.

Safety for Personnel

The safety of employees is also critical during any emergency and is linked to the transportation organization’s ability to provide service. Prioritizing safety through both policy and action helps make it clear to employees that their safety is important. Communication about these safety measures should be clear and consistent so that employees can trust the measures implemented. During a health-related emergency, cleaning vehicles and facilities is beneficial to riders and employees alike; visibility of these cleaning practices provides reassurance that problems are being taken seriously. Similarly, actively distributing PPE equipment to employees helps keep the work environment safer.

Transportation organizations should follow current federal and state guidance for safety in vehicles and at facilities during an emergency. As recommendations change over the course of an emergency, organizations need to communicate to employees the reasons that changes are

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Personnel and Resources." 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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Figure 5. Plexiglass driver shield—Twin Transit (Lewis County, Washington).

being made and how the changes will improve safety conditions. During COVID-19, most transportation organizations followed recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by implementing practices such as cleaning and disinfecting facilities and vehicles, improving ventilation, providing PPE to employees, and requiring masks on customers. COVID-19 testing of employees was required by some organizations, and some went the additional step of requiring vaccinations (once they were available). Physical distancing of passengers and drivers was also implemented frequently during COVID-19; this practice could include measures such as passengers seated in the furthest row from the driver, driver barriers installed in buses, changes in fare collection and rear-door boarding, and reductions in the number of passengers per vehicle. Figure 5 shows an example of a driver barrier installed inside a bus.

Staffing Approaches

Depending on the type of emergency, transportation organizations may decide to shift staff to different roles, service types, or work locations to meet the demands of the emergency safely. Transportation organizations were already struggling with driver recruitment and retention before 2020 due to increased demand for truck and delivery drivers in the freight and TNC industries; these challenges were exacerbated and compounded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Proactive thinking about how to utilize key staff positions in transportation service delivery, particularly vehicle operators but also other maintenance and operations support staff can help retain employees during and past the emergency period.

Health and Well-Being

During an emergency, it is important for transportation providers with paratransit service and other services for people with disabilities and older adults to consider the safety and well-being of their drivers and dispatchers in addition to their customers (Boyd et al., 2013).

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Personnel and Resources." 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 organizations also can consider flexibility on rules for employees to help retain staff and maintain the well-being of their workforce; such actions may include expanding access to sick leave, reducing red tape in employee rules, and compensating workers for time spent during quarantine periods (TransitCenter, 2020). Hazard pay and other additional salary and wage benefits will pose additional costs to the transportation organization but also improve employee well-being for those working during emergency conditions.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, tracking infections and exposures to the virus through contact tracing was a common practice for transportation organizations. Some transit agencies took additional steps such as quarantining vehicle operators who came in contact with infected passengers or possibly shifting them to roles that did not involve interaction with riders or other staff members (Ashour et al., 2021). Temperature checks at worksite locations were also common to screen transportation organization employees for symptoms prior to beginning their shifts. For staff who were nervous about working safely in their role during the pandemic (including those that were at risk or immunocompromised), remote work or roles with less interaction could be more suitable. Transportation organizations could also support access to COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites for employees (in addition to riders) (National Rural Transit Assistance Program, 2021).

Transportation Service Delivery

Service delivery during an emergency is affected by both decisions on service changes (including reductions and incidental uses) and the composition of staff in various service roles. For transportation organizations with a majority of operators or dispatching staff working as contracted employees, challenges can result from contractors laying off staff during the emergency, potentially creating a bind in maintaining lifeline services. Organizations with volunteer driver programs (VDPs) can also lose their volunteers during an emergency due to safety and well-being concerns (Cortez, 2020). Retaining in-house staff during the emergency at the expense of purchased transportation service may also be the preference for agencies with combinations of in-house and contracted service delivery.

Transportation organizations may also need to react to staffing challenges during a prolonged emergency period with reductions in service levels. Reactive service reductions need to consider changes in travel behaviors during the emergency (e.g., increased work from home) while maintaining lifeline services for people still needing to travel (e.g., essential workers). Based on the priorities identified by the agency, dedicating drivers and resources toward critical services for people with disabilities and older adults may be an explicit goal in service delivery (National Aging and Disability Transportation Center, 2021). Incidental use services can also enable service activities that continue employing staff during periods of decreased trip demand from customers (Hansen and Benedict, 2020).

Other Considerations

Implementing alternative work arrangements for staff can help address safety concerns while continuing to provide needed transportation service. These arrangements could include reduced

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Personnel and Resources." 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.
×

work schedules, telework options, split schedules, and other alternatives. Social distancing measures within operations and administrative facilities are also a useful safety measure during a health-related emergency. Transportation organizations considering these alternatives for future emergencies should be sure that their scheduling and communications technology platforms allow for these arrangements.

During COVID-19, many transit agencies found that call center and dispatch staff supporting operations could be transitioned to remote work; some agencies also split their workforce at the office into multiple groups or shifts (i.e., staggered scheduling) to reduce the possible spread of the virus among employees (Menon, Keita, and Bertini, 2020). Strong internal communication between management and staff as well as between employee groups is important to maintain and strengthen communication as employees are transitioned to different work assignments and locations. Transportation organizations can consider readily available online information, regular employee feedback mechanisms, and virtual channel resources for strengthening communication during alternative working arrangements.

Other Approaches

In emergency situations, it is critical for transportation organizations to balance safety with service when protecting employees and the public. During COVID-19, transportation organizations adjusted services in ways ranging from adjustments to operations to limit the spread of contagion to reallocation of staff, vehicles, and physical infrastructure to support safe, physically distant mobility. Transit agencies worldwide limited their service span, cancelled some services, and closed stations/facilities based on passenger demand (Gkiotsalitis and Cats, 2021).

Service Provision Levels

During an emergency, when service demand is lower, transportation organizations can be overstaffed and have short-term issues in adequately using all staff members to provide service. However, safety considerations and concern for the well-being of employees and riders may result in decisions to decrease service provision levels. In anticipation of transportation service demand either increasing due to an emergency or rebounding from the initial impacts of an emergency, it is important for transportation agencies to consider staffing needs for vehicles and other operational functions. For example, furloughing or laying off drivers and other staff in the short term may cause future issues with staffing because there may be a shortage of willing employees available to hire in response to increased service demand later on.

Safety-Related Equipment

Safety equipment and protection for vehicle operators and other staff who hold in-person operations roles are critical for continued service delivery during an emergency. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was common for PPE such as face masks or shields and gloves to be distributed to employees daily. Additionally, hand sanitizer bottles and stations were made available at facilities or within the vehicles themselves. Certain PPE measures taken during the

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Personnel and Resources." 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.
×

COVID-19 pandemic could also prove useful in other types of emergencies where environmental conditions potentially threaten the health of employees. Transportation organizations may consider actions that would ensure high-quality PPE (such as N95 masks) is available for vehicle operators during emergencies, due to their proximity to riders using the service.

Some transportation organizations responded to COVID-19 guidance by installing safety barriers between vehicle drivers and seating for passengers or barriers at facilities/working spaces for administrative staff. Many transit agencies are continuing to keep driver barriers in place within vehicles for other safety protection considerations. Air circulation was also a key concern within the vehicles and at working facilities. Some organizations installed new filter systems to help clean the internal air from any circulating virus particles.

Equity in Decision-Making

As transportation organizations shift personnel and resources between services or implement new incidental use services during an emergency, it is important to consider the equity implications in service provision for riders with disabilities, older adults, low-income households, and other critical populations in need of service. This section provides a brief overview of equity concerns related to the assignment of personnel and resources during an emergency; more information on actions/strategies related to service equity can be found in Chapter 8.

Reductions of Service

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many transportation organizations made temporary service changes and reductions in response to limited resources and capacity. Reducing fixed-route service and focusing resources on critical or high-need fixed routes is a common action taken by transit agencies during emergencies. Transit agencies with paratransit services are obligated to provide services and must balance their resources with following any health-related orders. Maintaining paratransit service at levels that reflect an agency’s complete fixed-route service profile (e.g., providing ADA paratransit service within ¾ mile of the standard fixed routes) so that such service is still available in areas where a fixed route is either reduced or suspended can help maintain access and mobility for people with disabilities; the same is true for other critical demand-response services used by older adults.

Temporary service changes in response to an emergency do not require a service equity analysis so long as the change does not last longer than 12 months; the same is true for fare changes within a 6-month period. FTA states that transit agencies are expected to take reasonable measures to ensure that any temporary service or fare changes are implemented equitably to prevent any unintentional discrimination (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2022). Developing plans to maintain service for people with disabilities, riders with medical needs, and older adults during emergency periods can help counteract any negative impacts that service reductions could otherwise cause (Elgart, Walk, and Rodman, 2020).

Incidental Use Services

Many transportation organizations responded to the COVID-19 pandemic challenges by implementing new incidental use services such as meal and grocery delivery, shuttle rides to access testing or vaccinations, and trips to emergency medical care or isolation locations. Targeting

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Personnel and Resources." 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.
×

these 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. Often transportation organizations can work with partner organizations in the community to determine where incidental use services are most needed in order to focus the use of resources set aside for this purpose. These types of services can also help in retaining drivers and other staff by creating opportunities for them to work despite reduced transit service demand/provision.

Safety-Related Measures

During COVID-19, many transportation organizations implemented safety-related measures such as reduced capacity on vehicles, placards on seats to create physical separation between riders, temporary barriers to reserve front seats for passengers in need, changed wheelchair securement procedures, required rear-door boarding for those that were able to board without assistive devices such as lifts or ramps, addition of screening questions during customer scheduling calls, and face masks required for riders (Weiner and Armenta, 2020; Elgart, Walk, and Rodman, 2020). Reduced seating capacity on vehicles due to strict distancing restrictions implemented by a transit agency could result in reducing the number of wheelchair securement spots available in the vehicle, particularly on fixed-route buses (Short, Gouge, and Mills, 2020). Some transit agencies used larger paratransit vehicles to further distance riders from each other within the vehicle, including increased space between wheelchairs.

Implementation of any safety-related measures for the safety of personnel needs to take into account any negative impacts on riders. FTA states that transit agencies cannot refuse service to customers who need to use the front door of the transit vehicle (such as customers who use wheelchairs or have a disability); transit agencies that implement a rear-door boarding policy are directed to take steps to minimize confusion about these requirements for riders and personnel (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2022). Temporary suspension of wheelchair securement policies is allowable under federal regulations, but operators are still required to use the securement system if requested by the customer (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2022).

During COVID-19, APTA suggested paratransit providers provide masks and other PPE to all passengers. Taking a multilayered approach that includes protective measures, policies, communication, and education can create confidence in employees (APTA, 2020). Rather than enforcement, TriMet in Portland, Oregon, used an “inform and supply” approach to distribute masks to riders who did not bring their own (TransitCenter, 2020). As the COVID-19 pandemic evolved, changes in requirements impacted customer comfort and perception of safety on transit vehicles. The easing of safety requirements during a pandemic emergency concerned some riders with health conditions (Lazo, 2022). Generally, the availability of hand sanitizer and requiring riders and drivers to wear face masks helps riders feel safer when using transit during a pandemic. Rider confidence and feelings of safety can also be enhanced by organizations’ actions to improve employee safety and health (e.g., requiring vaccinations for vehicle operators).

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Personnel and Resources." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Personnel and Resources." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Personnel and Resources." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Personnel and Resources." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Personnel and Resources." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Personnel and Resources." 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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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 5 - Personnel and Resources." 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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Next: Chapter 6 - Technology and Tools »
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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