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Page 34
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 6 - Technology and Tools." 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 6

Technology and Tools

When an emergency event happens, transportation organizations utilize tools and technologies already at their disposal or available through partners. Sometimes these tools are used according to their intended purposes, while in other cases they are adapted to fit the specific circumstances of the emergency. During the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation organizations found creative ways to use the technology and tools they had available to support existing and new services for their customers.

Technology is instrumental in adjusting to the circumstances of transportation service during an emergency and in making adjustments for temporary policies or incidental uses while meeting the needs of people with disabilities and older adults. Communication about service and policy changes needs to be distributed through multiple communication channels to ensure it reaches every applicable audience. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, online information and virtual public meetings were used by transportation organizations to safely distribute information and receive feedback from riders, but some older adults are not adept at using these online tools. Technology could also play a role during health-related emergencies in protecting the safety of riders and employees while maintaining service.

Key Points on Service for People with Disabilities and Older Adults

The technology used to adjust seating parameters in vehicles, particularly for paratransit service, can be useful for maintaining social distancing during some emergencies but should still enable the level of service capacity needed to meet customer demand.

Physical mailers and direct phone calls may be more effective than online communications and social media for some audiences. Robocalls, recordings on reservation lines, and IVR systems are helpful for customers who prefer to call for transportation information.

Technology used for communication is not a substitute for direct communication with the customer (in person or over the phone) or communication through community representatives that can help disseminate important messages during an emergency.

Routing and Scheduling Tools

Many transportation organizations rely on routing and scheduling software tools for both fixed-route and demand-response services to plan and respond to service needs. During an emergency, service parameters of vehicle capacity, frequency, and routing are adjusted to fit the circumstances

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 6 - Technology and Tools." 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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of the emergency. Additionally, other incidental uses (such as evacuations or delivery services) for transportation may be executed using these software tools. During COVID-19, routing and scheduling tools allowed transit agencies to be more responsive to changing traffic patterns and in some cases were used for routing vehicles to distribute food or other supplies to people in need.

New Service Parameters

Transportation organizations with routing and dispatch software found that adjustments to service parameters due to reduced capacity or other changes in service during COVID-19 were relatively straightforward, and they were able to execute new service schedules and seating limitations. For example, to improve social distancing within a vehicle, transit agencies with paratransit service could adjust the parameter for available seating capacity to reduce seating in the vehicle (e.g., 3 seats per vehicle instead of 11) (Ashour et al., 2021). Organizations could also vary seating parameters by type of vehicle in the paratransit fleet. Reducing available seating capacity in this manner was intended to maintain social distancing between riders rather than reduce available service. Additional needs for demand-response scheduling could be filled by crowd-sourcing applications and feedback tools to learn about customer usage of certain vehicle types and accommodations needed for mobility devices.

For fixed-route service, transit agencies also use parameters in software platforms to decrease or increase service on certain routes during an emergency. During COVID-19, several transit agencies temporarily reduced service on fixed routes due to the decrease in availability of drivers to operate the routes; this was facilitated by adjusting service parameters. Alternatively, scheduling additional bus runs close together (i.e., “double-busing”) to spread out riders across multiple vehicles (for social distancing purposes) is a tactic that can be facilitated by the scheduling software.

Incidental Uses

Demand-response technology platforms also provide the opportunity to develop new incidental use services based on an emergency; during COVID-19, delivering meals and other goods using paratransit vehicles was scheduled using demand-response platforms (Benedict and Hansen, 2020). Some transit agencies found that their software scheduling systems were not as adept at this since they are not designed for calculating the delivery of packages or food. As a result, challenges were encountered in estimating the number of packages per delivery, delivering cold/frozen food items, and protecting drivers from lifting heavy packages. Another potential logistical issue with demand-response software being used to schedule deliveries is notifying and updating customers on order statuses or delivery times (Ashour et al., 2021).

Adapting routing and dispatching software platforms used in demand-response service to incidental use services to transport people during emergencies (including shuttle services to appointments/care, evacuation trips, etc.) was less challenging. For future emergency situations with delivery services as an anticipated incidental use, determining the service parameter adjustments needed or an alternative technology system for facilitating deliveries may be advisable.

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 6 - Technology and Tools." 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.
×

Communications Tools

Existing communication tools at transportation organizations are also put to the test during an emergency since there is a need to quickly and effectively send out accurate information about changes to service and policies. During COVID-19, organizations utilized virtual, telephone, broadcast media, physical signage, and direct communication strategies with varying degrees of success.

Phone and Web Information

Online technologies were a key resource for many transportation organizations’ communication practices during the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations often created “frequently asked question” pages on their websites about COVID-19 topics and vehicle safety and cleaning (Diaz et al., 2021).

Often, other communication methods to customers were already in place prior to the pandemic, including phone and text messaging systems, mailing lists, email lists, and social media channels. Robocalls to customers could be used to deliver information about service changes or potential logistical issues, as well as suggestions for passengers to reconsider their travel plans. Text message and email systems for automatically sending out information are also useful strategies for mass broadcast beyond online information during both emergency and non-emergency situations.

Level of Effectiveness

The limitation of relying on online or text-message-based systems is that customers who do not use smartphone technology or email addresses cannot access the information easily. Similarly, social media as a tool for communication during an emergency can be less effective in reaching older adult customers, who typically have a limited presence on social media (depending on the specific platform). For reaching some people with disabilities and older adults, physical mailers supported by direct phone calls may be needed. Figure 6 shows an example of a new rider guide created for temporary service during the pandemic. Translators and messengers from different cultural backgrounds can help facilitate better communication with customers in different communities and understand their needs (TransitCenter, 2020). Robocalls and recordings on reservation lines are also more helpful for customers who prefer to call for information.

Many transit agencies also shifted to holding public meetings on web video conference platforms, which helped increase access for some but limited participation for those with limited internet access, little understanding of the technology, or barriers to accessing meeting platforms (Cortez, 2020). Above all, the use of advanced technology in communication is not a substitute for communicating directly with a customer (in person or over the phone) or through community representatives who can help disseminate important messages during an emergency.

Health and Safety Information

During COVID-19, systems for communicating health and safety information on vehicles were also useful for letting customers know the latest policies and procedures for riding the vehicle and staying safe. These systems could include rotating recorded messages through the vehicle annunciators and posting digital signage on the vehicles. As previously noted, drivers are often key in passing on information to riders (particularly paratransit customers) about the latest news and service changes.

Page 37
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 6 - Technology and Tools." 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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Image
Source: Rogue Valley Transportation District, 2021.

Figure 6. Example of temporary rider guide for customers.
Page 38
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 6 - Technology and Tools." 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.
×

Remote Working Technology

During an emergency, the ability of transportation organization employees to work at their designated office locations or drive vehicles safely may be affected. During an event involving inclement weather or environmental or social unrest, office locations may be inaccessible, while vehicles may not be able to be driven on some or all roads in the area. During a health-related event such as the COVID-19 pandemic, employees often cannot safely work in proximity to each other, or to transit riders without proper distancing and protection.

During an emergency, remote working technology makes it possible to perform some transportation organization functions from the safety of home rather than from the office. In addition to general administration roles, a key function in transportation that transfers well to remote work is scheduling and dispatching. Reservationists and dispatchers can use the software platform at home while continuing to communicate with customers and drivers over the phone. In some cases, remote scheduling and dispatching that began during the COVID-19 pandemic has continued. At several transit agencies, some of these roles remain either fully remote or hybrid (i.e., some days in the office and other days at home).

Remote Systems

Remote systems for reservationists, dispatchers, and transportation administrative staff are useful in some emergencies; remote systems include home office set-ups with computer and phone systems. Depending on the length of the emergency, there may be a need for other preparations associated with the systems, such as data plans or identifying which staff can work remotely at a given time.

In preparation for an emergency, organizations anticipating shifting roles to remote work need to ensure that the employees in these roles have computers with the software functionality to perform their roles at home as they do at the office. Additionally, phone systems that accommodate customer call loads to reservationists and communication between dispatchers and drivers may need to be set up to accommodate remote work locations. This functionality is useful for both customer-facing purposes (using agency phone numbers) and for staff retention. Remote systems can also provide the capability to conduct virtual public meetings as well as paratransit eligibility processing (TransitCenter, 2020).

Cybersecurity Considerations

During the COVID-19 pandemic, transit agencies adopted or accelerated the use of new technologies that allowed remote working, enhanced communications, and contactless services. Along with the new technologies, new cyber vulnerabilities and challenges can emerge. Remote devices are less secure, and the combination of personal and agency devices being used and needing to be secured created logistical problems. Vendors of the applications being used did not always maintain the level of security required. Updating and patching software to address cybersecurity concerns can be difficult to do remotely. In addition, cybercriminals and other entities often take advantage of emergencies to conduct cyber operations because systems may be more vulnerable to unauthorized access during those times.

Agencies need to be aware of potential cyber vulnerabilities with new systems or technologies and ensure that cybersecurity plans are developed and implemented. Having cybersecurity plans at transportation organizations may be useful in responding to future emergency events in which remote work may be a temporary option for some organizational roles.

Page 39
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 6 - Technology and Tools." 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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Other Technologies

Other technologies that are particularly relevant for maintaining safe conditions during health-related emergencies include ventilation, cleaning/disinfecting tools, disease transmission tracking, and tracking of service capacity statuses.

Prevention and Mitigation

During COVID-19, many transit agencies took steps to mitigate transmission of the virus between riders and drivers by improving ventilation in vehicles and cleaning vehicles more frequently or intensely. A best practice for vehicles (as well as facilities and offices) was to ensure proper ventilation of the shared space to reduce airborne disease transmission, as well as vent air intake on vehicles toward the rear of the vehicle (TransitCenter, 2020). New types of filters were installed in ventilation systems and tested to determine how effective they were during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultraviolet (UV) germicidal irradiation was used in air-conditioning ducts (APTA Standards Development Program, 2020).

In addition to increased cleaning of the vehicle interior, some large transit agencies began testing UV light as a method to disinfect surfaces from viruses, including coronaviruses (FTA, 2022). Since the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been more common for these UV systems to be installed in vehicles at the point of manufacture. APTA notes other studies finding UV lights to be effective in killing coronaviruses (APTA Standards Development Program, 2020). Foggers, misters, or sprayers, including electrostatic sprayers, were used to disinfect transit vehicles (FTA, 2022). A few transit agencies applied antimicrobial shields to surfaces at transit stations and on vehicles to help protect against the transmission of viruses (APTA Standards Development Program, 2020). Figure 7 shows a transit agency employee using equipment to sanitize the bus interior.

Image
Source: Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority, 2020a.

Figure 7. Sanitation equipment being used for bus cleaning.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 6 - Technology and Tools." 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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Employee Health

Contact tracing to determine when a rider, driver, or other employee testing positive for a disease or virus may have been in contact with others can be facilitated through video surveillance footage and schedule tracking. Smartphone applications that have riders and employees report positive tests could also be used by a transportation organization to conduct contact tracing.

Service Capacity

During COVID-19, some large transit agencies used online dashboard tools to communicate real-time ridership information to customers. Ridership dashboards and other information about real-time capacity loads in buses or trains could help travelers avoid highly congested travel periods if their schedules are flexible. Communication through color-coding, capacity limits, and recent historical data also helps with trip planning (Menon, Keita, and Bertini, 2020).

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 6 - Technology and Tools." 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 6 - Technology and Tools." 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 6 - Technology and Tools." 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 6 - Technology and Tools." 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 6 - Technology and Tools." 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 6 - Technology and Tools." 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 6 - Technology and Tools." 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 7 - Challenges and Potential Solutions »
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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