The Transportation Industry to Create More Equitable Systems in a Post-COVID World

The first known case of COVID-19 appeared in November 2019. Ten months later, our world has been irreversibly altered and transportation deeply impacted.  The industry has suffered human and financial loss, while also seizing on opportunities to create more accessible and equitable systems for the future.

Transportation in Unchartered Territory 

First and foremost, the health and safety of frontline workers across all sectors in the transportation industry is of the highest priority. Front line workers risk greater rates of contact with the virus in order to transport people and goods to keep life and our economy moving. In June, witnesses representing teamsters , freight and trucking, flight attendants, transit operators, and other transportation trades professionals, gave testimony to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure during a hearing titled “On the Front Lines: The Impacts of COVID-19 on Transportation Workers.” The witnesses called on the Committee to ensure job security and protection from airborne viruses. 

According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), April 14, 2020 saw the fewest travelers with 87,534 passengers; an almost inconceivable decrease from the same day one year prior when 2,208,688 passengers flew. The Q1 Ridership Report, published by American Public Transportation Association (APTA), shows a decline in ridership of heavy rail, light rail, commuter rail, and bus beginning in March compared to the previous year. By May, APTA was reporting a $48.8 billion funding shortfall for U.S. transit agencies.

Solutions from a United Industry

Paul Skoutelas, president and CEO of APTA, discussed the impact of COVID in June during the “Industry Conversation: Pandemic Recovery Priorities” webinar hosted by WTS International. The discussion sought to bring transportation leaders together to discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by pandemic that could lead to a more equitable and accessible transportation system.

Paula Hammond, chair, WTS International Board, senior vice president, National Transportation Market Leader, WSP USA moderated the discussion and was joined by Dave Bauer, president and CEO, American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), Brandye Hendrickson, deputy director, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Brad Mims, president and CEO, COMTO National, and Neil Pederson, executive director, Transportation Research Board (TRB).

“With the impacts of the pandemic and our stark recognition that we have a long way to go to provide equity and inclusion in our transportation system and industry, we are here today to discuss how we as a transportation industry and the organization that represents thousands of our members, from public agencies and the private sector, can work together to emerge from our current situation to shape a stronger transportation system, solutions for all communities, and build the diverse workforce of the future that we desire” Hammond shared to kick off the discussion.

Creating the Future of Transportation

To shape a stronger transportation system for our current environment, industry professionals will have to be creative. Many transit systems have mobilized to prioritize essentail worker mobility and routes to hospitals. Areas that have done this well include Los Angeles, Central Ohio, and Washington State in the United States, and Germany, Abu Dhabi, and Tel Aviv across the world. Some of the world’s largest airports are piloting new technologies to create a touchless luggage check-in, restroom visits, and enplaning process to reduce the transmission of germs. Scooter and bike companies are offering socially distanced mobility and meeting new interest by increasing availability.  

The journey to create solutions for all communities and build diverse workforces requires that the transportation industry maintain its current resolve to create a future that is stronger, more accessible, and more equitable than before. Together we can create the industry we imagine.