Because transit plays a vital role in our global economic recovery, and modernizing transportation technology is crucial to helping cities thrive post-pandemic, Government Technology recently convened a panel of public transit experts to discuss pandemic implications and what’s needed to bring riders back.
Speakers included: Renee Autumn Ray, Strategy and Innovation Leader for Conduent Transportation Solutions; Anthony Foxx, board member and former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation; and Pete Sklannik, a USDOT advisor, among others.
Key takeaways from the Government Technology Public Transit Modernization webinar included:
- Understanding the continuing impact of COVID on public transportation and public space. Ray explained that a number of people are likely to continue social distancing, especially on public transit. Municipal leaders are also rethinking their current use of sidewalks and curb spaces, prioritizing safe public spaces for walking, biking, and accessing transit services. This is a big shift away from generations of prioritizing roads for vehicles instead, Ray added.
- Technology’s role in the evolution of smart cities. Advances such as AI are helping municipal leaders conduct physical asset management using less labor intensive means, to count street signs, and capture video and images of the physical landscape, which can help evaluate things like the presence of ADA-compliant crosswalks. Because roads, transit stops, and curbside space can take up to 40% of the land mass in a given city, it’s important for municipal leaders to leverage technology to help price assets to balance supply with demand across the transportation landscape, Ray explained.
- Operational considerations continue to evolve. Public agencies must think about privacy, the use of public spaces and private data collection in public rights of way. Municipal authorities must provide transparency in the use of data and keep personal information secured.
- Restoring safe, sustainable, and equitable transit services. Restoring confidence in transit will take time, according to Foxx. While ridership levels are down from pre-pandemic levels, agencies should consider alternative financial structures to help maintain infrastructure and transit services. This is why ramping up automated traffic enforcement offers an attractive way for cities to help fill ongoing shortfalls, Foxx explained.
- Federal and (infrastructure) funding considerations. Sklannik reported that last spring’s American Rescue Plan earmarked approximately $30.4 billion to improve transit operations. Municipal leaders must work to gain grants funding to update infrastructure and improve disaster recovery contingency plans. After decades of underinvestment, federal funding initiatives give city leaders an opportunity to upgrade, or invest in new technologies such as electric buses, or to revitalize rail operations to meet the needs of residents who may now live in exurbs.
The ongoing convergence of multiple transportation modes and other elements in the transportation ecosystem is compelling municipal leaders to find ways to tie all of the elements together, Foxx said. That way, even if a traveler’s journey doesn’t rely on bus transit, municipal transportation agencies can still play a role in trip planning, for example, by providing trustworthy, transparent, reliable information to help travelers safely and efficiently complete their daily journeys. Agencies must be willing to demonstrate that they can provide trustworthy, reliable, real-time information to help residents and travelers feel safe and comfortable enough to ride public transit again.
To learn more, you can review the recent eRepublic Public Transit Modernization webinar, here.