Lessons Learned from Covid-19: Strategies to Enhance Racial and Social Equity

During a pandemic or other crises, communities are critically dependent on essential functions and services that are recognized as lifelines. Community lifelines (e.g., energy; health and medical; food, water, and waste management; and communications and essential mobility) enable coordination and increase societal well-being during crisis response and recovery. Communities cannot be resilient unless these lifelines work effectively. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, public transportation faced severe economic conditions due to precipitous drops in passenger fares and revenues from sources such as sales taxes, as most work places, schools, shopping facilities, and entertainment venues closed. The transit industry responded with numerous efforts to mitigate virus exposure (e.g., by not enforcing fare collection, allowing all-door access on buses, enhancing cleaning, and introducing virtual eligibility programs).  Some transit agencies altered services temporarily to connect essential workers with jobs and connect people with other essential services. American Public Transportation Association (APTA) surveyed the public transportation industry in January 2021 regarding the financial impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. The 130 respondent agencies, that represented more than 75 percent of the U.S. transit ridership pre-Covid, indicated that the coronavirus precipitated a critical funding shortfall for public transit agencies. Despite the emergency federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid and the Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) in 2020, 65 percent of U.S. public transit agencies cut service and 32 percent eliminated routes. During the Covid-19 pandemic, low-income communities and communities of color faced compounding disparities due to their curtailed mobility from transit service cuts and from greater vulnerabilities to contract the virus. As a result, people who relied on public transportation for meeting their essential needs suffered as services, largely designed for congestion mitigation during work trips of the general population, were suspended and cut back. While ridership on transit fell steeply during the pandemic, a survey conducted of large urban areas by the TransitCenter found much of the decline is due to people riding less often and not abandoning transit altogether. In 2019 and 2020 there was a heightened realization that essential workers permeate many industries including health care, fire, safety, food, childcare, and transportation. Overnight, essential workers were recognized as the backbone of society and became among the most at risk to infection from the Covid-19, in part because they were required to work in person and travel to do so. Many essential workers who rely on public transit earn lower wages and are people of color.  As a result, these individuals, their households, and their communities were especially challenged with respect to their health and ability to travel safely and affordably during the pandemic.  Public transportation agencies and other transportation providers are now attempting to restore service cuts, improve resilience, and prepare for future crises. Important questions must be answered, such as how should transit services be modified during crises to maintain community lifelines. Given this, research is needed to help ensure that the positive and negative lessons learned regarding low-income communities and communities of color during the Covid-19 pandemic are documented and understood. The objective of this research is to present strategies to enhance racial and social equity through providing essential travel and community lifelines for low-income communities and communities of color during disasters. The research should focus on serving essential travel needs by people throughout the United States who rely on public transportation for work, health care, food, education, caregiving, and childcare trips.  The target audiences for this research include public transportation providers and their public, private and non-profit partners at local, regional, state, and national levels. The research will address racial and social equity concerns and help enhance responsiveness for future crises by (see Special Note A): (1) Documenting lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic including success stories and shortfalls in serving essential travel and providing community lifelines for low-income communities and communities of color. (2) Identifying effective approaches for engagement and communication with low-income communities and communities of color to continuously (1) understand their essential travel needs, (2) obtain their input and feedback, and (3) inform the communities of new and modified transportation services. (3) Presenting methods to prioritize travel needs of low-income communities and communities of color, in the temporary redesign of public transportation services and other modes. (4) Assessing and recommending opportunities for collaboration between public transportation providers and their public, private, and non-profit partners to maintain lifelines and access to essential destinations using available modes of transportation. (5) Compiling a range of fiscal and operational strategies to continue public transit and other transportation services during crises.  (6) Assessing adherence to Federal Title VI and American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements during the Covid-19 pandemic. (7) Cataloging strategies for public transportation agencies to proactively preserve or enhance opportunities for riders in low-income communities and communities of color to continue relying on public transportation during crises. (8) Exploring and recommending fundamental changes to the planning, operation, and regulation of public transportation and other modes in communities of different types to make them more responsive and resilient to the travel needs of low-income communities and communities of color during times of crisis and in normal times.


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  • Status: Proposed
  • Funding: $350000
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project H-60

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Transit Cooperative Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC    20001

    Federal Transit Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Project Managers:

    Schwager, Dianne

  • Start Date: 20211006
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 0

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01758959
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project H-60
  • Files: TRB, RIP
  • Created Date: Nov 23 2020 3:06PM