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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 - Challenges and Potential Solutions." 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 7

Challenges and Potential Solutions

Emergency events present transportation organizations with challenges to service provision and administration that must be overcome. Addressing these challenges may require new ways of working or providing service and bringing new partners and stakeholders to the table. A pandemic brings challenges due to unknowns and uncertainty in the science about the disease, the effective responses to the disease, and the impacts of the pandemic on the agency, its employees, and customers.

The following are major challenges that transportation organizations experienced during COVID-19 in addressing the needs of people with disabilities and older adults. Within these challenges are kernels of opportunity to emerge stronger, more resilient, and more connected as agencies and as individuals.

Key Points on Service for People with Disabilities and Older Adults

Leveraging existing data and knowledge on customers can help identify the needs of people with disabilities and older adults during an emergency. Additionally, partnering with local organizations working with these riders is key for learning about their needs and developing targeted incidental use programs.

Managing the fears of employees and riders about safety is a major challenge during an emergency. Making it clear to staff and customers alike that safety is the priority, through both messaging and actions, is important to establishing trust in the service.

Transportation organizations can proactively consult with their in-house experts and with key external stakeholders prior to implementing broad new policies in order to gather insights about potential unintended consequences.

Ensuring Accessibility and Equity

Pandemics affect people, not infrastructure, and they do not affect everyone equally. The COVID-19 pandemic had proportionally greater adverse impacts on people and communities that did not have reliable transportation alternatives or required assistance from drivers and caregivers. Lower service frequencies and reduced capacity impacted these riders’ use of transit service more significantly because they were more likely to depend on it for work or access to medical care, family, and groceries. In making decisions on what routes and services to maintain during the COVID-19 pandemic, transit agencies prioritized core services and routes deemed necessary, such as dialysis routes and those utilized by people with disabilities and older adults.

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 - Challenges and Potential Solutions." 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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Source: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 2020.

Figure 8. Rear-door boarding announcement and guidance.

Some agencies had established prioritized routes prior to the pandemic, but many others had to determine those routes and services as the pandemic developed.

Based on their experiences during the pandemic, transportation organizations recognized that putting institutional infrastructure in place to know where customers are and to understand and meet community needs is important. Transportation organizations leveraged existing data on and knowledge of their customers to identify needs among their high-need users, including people with disabilities, older adults, people with low incomes, historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups, and people with limited English proficiency. Partnering with local food pantries, public health organizations, an area’s agency on aging, and health and human service organizations was a key practice for many transportation organizations working on food delivery programs or providing rides to vaccinations. Proactively communicating and engaging with the public and establishing and maintaining connections with community organizations during non-emergency times will increase a transportation organization’s ability to ensure accessibility and equity (Viggiano, Stein, and Van Twisk, 2023). Figure 8 provides an example of a transportation boarding policy that takes into account the needs of people with disabilities and older adults.

Maintaining Staff

With the significant reduction in service demand during the pandemic, transportation organizations were challenged with how to maintain their staff, recognizing the difficulty of finding and recruiting staff before the pandemic. Some organizations were able to keep everyone on staff because, even with the reduced service demand, there was still enough demand to preserve the need for the existing staff. Most agencies, however, had to seek out other work for employees, and the new services that were provided during the pandemic, such as meal delivery or transport for medical services, helped retain drivers and maintain service while improving the resilience of the organization.

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 - Challenges and Potential Solutions." 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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Implementing Safety and Service Measures

In emergencies, the safety of employees and passengers is essential to maintaining services. Managing the fears of employees and the public about their safety is a major challenge during a pandemic. During the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation organizations prioritized driver, staff, and public safety and worked to make it clear to all that this was important. However, there were many challenges due to the limited knowledge about COVID-19 and the immediate, large demand for protective equipment and supplies. Transportation organizations were focused on providing consistent, clear, and uniform guidance about protocols for cleaning, preventing the spread of the virus, and detecting COVID-19, but had to contend with information and guidance that changed over time. Organizations established mask policies and other safety guidelines based on local and federal mandates and guidance from health agencies, which varied from one jurisdiction to another.

Adequate PPE

Most transportation organizations were able to get masks to drivers, although due to shortages and other procurement challenges, some had to utilize all partners and services (e.g., health centers, emergency management teams, local businesses, and others) since they could acquire/distribute PPE from their supplies and procurement offices. For example:

  • King County Metro (Seattle, Washington) created a critical resources task force within the agency and teamed up with a local distillery to produce hand sanitizer.
  • Arrowhead Transit, a program of Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (Virginia, Minnesota), created a spreadsheet with information obtained from agencies and from research on how to procure PPE and supplies along with proper usage instructions.
  • Choctaw Transit, operated by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (Choctaw, Mississippi), had to utilize all the services it could to procure PPE; the agency talked to the health center, emergency management team, and local businesses such as a local resort to partner up to acquire and distribute PPE from their supplies and procurement offices for the transit agency.

Enforcement

Mask policies and other safety guidelines could confuse riders if transportation organizations were not clear on requirements for riders (e.g., whether masks were required to ride in the vehicles or strongly recommended) (Nelson, 2021).

Mandatory rules from the federal, state, or local governing bodies made enforcement easier for transit operators. 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). In Philadelphia, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority had to change its approach to enforcing mask requirements after a video of a passenger being removed from a bus for not wearing a face covering was shared widely.

Awareness and Information

Communication on service changes or access to key locations was critical for transportation organizations during the pandemic. Some people with disabilities or older adults may have limited use of technology (e.g., not having a presence on social media or an email address) or difficulty when using technology such as web platforms due to low to no vision (Cochran, 2020). Because of this, agencies face challenges in reaching these customers and must use a range of communication channels to relay changes in services and required safety measures.

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 - Challenges and Potential Solutions." 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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Some organizations found it challenging to effectively inform communities about new initiatives or changes to regular service. Sometimes gaining the public’s trust was difficult, especially with initiatives that were outside of the transportation domain or potentially controversial (e.g., vaccines) (Viggiano, Stein, and Van Twisk, 2023).

Understanding what communication methods are effective in reaching the intended audience is critical. During the pandemic, postal mail and phone calls were found to be most successful since some riders may not use technology tools, may not have a presence on social media, or may not have an email address. Robocalls and recordings on the reservation line were also effective, particularly for many people with disabilities and older adults. For fixed-route services, vehicle rotating signs were effective. Word-of-mouth communication (e.g., at dialysis centers or senior centers) was important for paratransit customers, as was the provision of information to passengers and paratransit customers by drivers, so riders knew what to expect. It was important to ensure that the information being relayed was consistent, especially if multiple agencies and contractors were involved in providing services.

Communication/Coordination with Other Agencies or Partners

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some transit agencies experienced challenges in working with other agencies or partners such as inconsistent communication or the failure to pass along important information. This problem was compounded by the number and types of partners that transit agencies were working or coordinating with during the emergency (Viggiano, Stein, and Van Twisk, 2023).

Developing relationships and establishing strong connections with partner agencies prior to an emergency can help overcome this issue. Identifying information needs and developing the means to facilitate the sharing of data or information prior to an emergency can reduce problems with information sharing during an event. Clearly communicating and coordinating to ensure consistency are helpful as well.

Unintended Consequences

Well-intended actions for public safety may have unintended consequences. Reduced seating capacity on vehicles due to strict distancing restrictions implemented by a transportation organization could result in a reduction in the number of wheelchair securement spots available in the vehicle, particularly on fixed-route buses (Short, Gouge, and Mills, 2020).

Transportation organizations can proactively consult with their in-house experts and with key external stakeholders prior to implementing broad new policies. APTA recommends that paratransit agencies review service reductions, shutdowns, fare changes, policy changes, and other similar changes for regulatory compliance and future audits (APTA, 2020). Monitoring the implementation of the policies and making timely adjustments, when necessary, will minimize the impacts of unintended consequences.

Page 41
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 7 - Challenges and Potential Solutions." 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 7 - Challenges and Potential Solutions." 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 7 - Challenges and Potential Solutions." 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 7 - Challenges and Potential Solutions." 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 8 - Emergency Management--Strategies and Approaches »
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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