September 23, 2021
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The Community Transportation Association of America recently issued a 61-page paper chronicling the “new normal” created by the COVID-19 pandemic for the public transit sector. CTAA also provided six recommendations within that paper to help preserve some of the positives that came out of the re-orientation of transit services during the pandemic.

[Above photo by the Minnesota DOT]

“The only way to truly manage the profound change and disruption brought on by COVID-19 is to be flexible,” noted Scott Bogren, CTAA’s executive director, in the report. “Community transit operators have always shown amazing flexibility in how they serve their communities and their passengers – and it’s a skill we’ll all need moving forward into the new normal.”

Photo via the CTAA

Those recommendations are to make “public health” a new “focus area” for the transit sector, make fare payment “fairer and more equitable,” focus federal and state government funding on supporting frequent and reliable transit service, strengthen hiring and career development, redesign routes and provide more frequent all-day service, and expand transit’s “demand-response” capabilities.

The CTAA noted the importance of state department of transportation support in several of those key areas.

For example, the report noted that the Minnesota Department of Transportation lifted the local match requirement completely on state operating grants for the 2020 budget year. That enabled local transit agencies to rebuild their financial reserves with state grants, while using fare revenue to help with procurement of new buses to refresh and expand their fleets, the report said.

That action reflected advice supplied by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials during the height of the pandemic. AASHTO’s Council on Public Transportation sent a letter to the Federal Transit Administration in April 2020 outlining “thoughts and recommendations” on ways the agency could maximize aid to state DOTs and their transit sub-recipients during the COVID-19 national emergency.

Those included allowing for “greater flexibility” in applying federal program funds to projects without arbitrary deadlines and allowing for changes to projects based on evolving local priorities.

Image by the FTA

AASHTO is also currently helping sponsor a series of “listening sessions” as part of the FTA’s “America’s Open and Transit’s Open” national outreach effort.

FTA noted in separate statement that  transit ridership is rebounding in communities across the nation, with ridership up more than 80 percent over early 2020 levels, according to agency data.

“That’s why FTA is facilitating a national conversation about ways transit agencies are attracting riders and growing new ridership,” explained Nuria Fernandez, the agency’s administrator.

“Our ‘America’s Open and Transit’s Open’ initiative is engaging our transit partners through listening sessions and a National Transit Renewal Summit to share best practices and work together to renew ridership across America,” she said.

editor@aashto.org

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