Transit agencies, transportation network companies (TNCs), and micromobility companies are facing an unprecedented set of challenges in maintaining the health and safety of workers and customers while adjusting to a steep and immediate loss of ridership and revenue. The future is also extraordinarily uncertain in terms of the duration of the pandemic, and whether there will be a longer, lasting change in social norms and travel demand that will continue impacting operations, service provision, and financial strength. With this background in mind, we have been starting conversations and listening to some of the key questions being asked by our clients and partners across the country during the COVID-19 response. We are now taking action to accelerate new practices and innovations that were already in our 2020 Research & Development (R&D) agenda. Additionally, we are moving to identify the best ways to help agencies plan for and respond to this uncertain future, but also with an eye toward advancing our industry’s best practices into the future.
What We’re Hearing
- Vulnerable Riders – How does the region ensure that the most vulnerable of our public transit riders, those with limited options, receive priority consideration in the recovery period?
- Environmental Goals – How should environmental goals, including reduction in vehicle use and greenhouse gases, be achieved with the restoration of public transit and how do access options like telecommuting fit in?
- Distancing Challenges – How can technology help manage customer concerns around social distancing and help transit agencies provide more dynamic service offerings to reduce crowding levels using flexible service levels based on real-time information?
- Partnership Paradigm Shift – Will the unprecedented pressures on transit agency finances create a window of opportunity to reformulate transit service plans, consolidate transit service providers, and/or explore unprecedented levels of partnership with TNCs and private transit operators?
- Funding Reformulation – Will the loss of ridership and revenue pressure transit agencies to rethink the cost of providing service, so that they can provide more frequent, less-crowded service without increasing costs?
- Minimum or Maximum – Will micromobility and TNC companies shrink in the coming recession, or will they be better able to adjust to new traveler needs and scale to new levels of demand as transit agencies operate with reduced service levels?
- The Cash Conundrum – How will transit agencies respond to lost revenue when trying to restart normal service? Will agencies heavily dependent on farebox revenues and sales tax have to start focusing on high-revenue routes? If so, how will they balance equity concerns?
How We’re Responding
We are accelerating a pair of actions that were already on our R&D action plan and adapting them to the current situation:
- Transit Funding Future – We are quickly moving forward with our expanded research on current and future transit funding options from both traditional (public revenue) and non-traditional (partnerships and private sector funding) sources.
- Rapid Scenario Testing – Our suite of quick-response models and tools is being leveraged to evaluate impacts to transit ridership (along with vehicle trip generation and safety implications) of potential new travel trends that emerge from the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. More on the results of this testing will be published in the coming weeks.
In addition to the accelerated items above, we have other actions on our R&D agenda that we are targeting for later in the year:
- Ridership Growth Planning & Tools – Our research is being expanded on the “who” and “why” of travel by transit to provide more targeted strategies for transit agencies and others to emerge from the era of social distancing with a focus on equity and mobility needs.
- Autonomous Rapid Transit Testing – We will leverage our R&D funding with a partner client to evaluate the merits, challenges, and potential implementation pathway of autonomous rapid transit on a specific corridor.
- Big Data for Small Markets – We’re also leveraging our expertise on evaluating big data for transit and travel markets, expanding our application for small cities and rural areas with a focus on both traditional fixed-route transit and roles for emerging transportation technologies and partnerships with other transportation providers.
What We’re Seeking
Tell us about the needs and challenges facing your community, and let’s work toward solutions. Our investments in innovation are most useful when they address shared difficulties and obstacles across a wide array of regions and communities. Partner with us now to influence the direction of our transit and emerging modes research, and collaborate with us in the work. Contact our leaders in this topic – Nate Conable, Paul Jewel, or Jerry Walters – today to discuss your challenges, needs, and ideas with us. Together, we can meet this unique moment with the resolve that is needed to emerge stronger.