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As shelter in place orders were enacted across the country, mobility patterns and behaviors changed drastically, almost overnight. The navigation app Waze, which has 130 million users worldwide, reports drivers are traveling 60% fewer miles compared to a daily average taken for a two-week period in February.1 Changes in driving and walking requests on Apple Maps directions reveal an approximate 60% drop from January 13 to April 2020, while transit requests had dropped approximately 80%. As of July 2020, driving and walking requests are 34% and 18% higher than the baseline respectively, while transit requests remain 47% lower than the baseline.

In addition to massive losses in ridership, transit agencies are facing the additional challenges of increased costs related to new cleaning and disinfection protocols, and decreased revenues from fare collection and taxes.

While the challenges facing transit agencies are complex, transit remains the lifeblood of our cities by enabling access to jobs and educational opportunities, supporting greenhouse gas reduction and sustainability, and providing a fundamental public enabling people to connect more efficiently with a wider variety of jobs, increasing wages and economic activity.4 A better normal for mobility has public transit as the backbone of the transportation system. The current crisis necessitates a new way of thinking about how to support and fund transit going forward, while balancing cost-structures for more equitable mobility options as outlined in the action plan below.

Action Plan

Assess current conditions

  • Create a map of mobility options in your city.
  • Overlay household income on the mobility map.
  • Determine average community journey times and mobility costs using sources such as anonymized smart phone data, economic data, and local transit costs.
  • Develop comprehensive community and stakeholder engagement plans to validate needs and findings and co-create content and solutions.
  • Assess: where are journey times longest? The most expensive? How does this align with areas targeted for growth or social equity? Do you have mobility deserts? Where?

Review and realign incentive programs

  • Are employers in your city incentivizing mobility options such as mass transit and active transportation through employer-provided subsidies, reimbursements, partial payments, or pre-tax payroll reductions? If so, are they working? If not, are there ways the city can strengthen employer incentives?
  • Have universities in your city considered subsidizing transit for students? What about residential complexes? Consider how your city can make these subsidies more appealing through taxes, zoning codes or other incentives.
  • In the Bay Area, many residential complexes provide free or discounted transit passes to tenants, thanks to local laws allowing denser zoning for buildings that incentivize alternatives to driving.
  • Is it less expensive to take a plane to a neighboring city than a train? If so, consider how to lower the cost of rail travel.

Review planned transportation projects (CAPEX and OPEX)

  • Are planned projects still relevant? Should parts of them change to meet the current reality or a different social priority?
  • Assess the new transit patterns emerging in your city with scenario planning tools that consider mobility trends such as electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and ride sharing.

Make the most of CARES funding

  • Consider setting up a committee to oversee allocation of funds so community interests and future needs are reflected.
  • The Bay Area recently stood up a Blue Ribbon Transit Recovery Task Force made up of transit agency leaders, elected officials, business and labor groups, transit operators, advocates for persons with disabilities, and social justice groups to analyze community needs, forecast future trends, and allocate CARES funding accordingly.

Develop a short-term (6 month) action plan

  • Analyze the data you collected in step 1, review existing incentive plans and planned transportation options, then develop a plan to fill gaps and pilot approaches. Some options include:
  • Provide an equitable bike/e-bike share program.
  • A combination of consistent community outreach, low income fare options, and cash payments have created one of the most equitable bike share programs in the US. 45% of passholders from Philadelphia’s Indego bikeshare program are from nonwhite groups and 35% of passholders have incomes less than $25,000.
  • According to your map in step 1, adjust fares to rebalance and reduce costs where needed.
  • Seattle’s ORCA Lift program offers half-priced fares for riders with household income that is less than twice the federal poverty line. King County officials got widespread enrollment by relying on a network of health clinics, community centers, and nonprofits.
  • Assess the possibilities of making public transportation free at certain times (or all the time). If applicable for your city, consider funding with congestion pricing.
  • Olympia, WA has implemented a five-year Zero-Fare Demonstration Project for no-cost bus-fare after finding that the costs to upgrade fair collection systems and purchase cards was more than the fair revenue. After one month, they experienced a 20% increase in ridership.

Develop a long-term plan (one year +)

  • Establish a cross-agency city taskforce (or use an existing taskforce) to strengthen relationships across agencies and identify longer term strategies which can be applied specifically to addressing equity and sustainability in transit with the new funding models identified in the previous steps. Some options to consider include:
  • Reroute transit lines to better serve identified areas and remedy issues.
  • Utilize electric buses in areas with high asthma rates.
  • Consider road use charges to encourage long term change

AECOM Resources and Case Studies