ITE Journal - April 2021 - 43

Future Challenges for Public Transportation
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates an already challenging
environment for public transportation. Ridership had declined over
several years despite a robust economy and growing levels of service.
Record auto ownership, burgeoning travel choices such as transportation network company services, e-scooters and bikes, growing
telecommuting and e-commerce, and changing demographics had
been challenging public transportation. The competitive advantages
of mass transit's space, energy, and emissions efficiencies were
already being diminished, as personal vehicles have become more
efficient and evolve toward electric propulsion.
The future risk to demand is compounded by the possibility
that automated vehicle services could render uncompetitive
traditional public transit services in all but high-volume corridors.
The emergence of COVID-19 and its substantial reduction in public
transit ridership results in a perfect storm of challenges for public
transportation as we know it today.
Social distancing undermines the fundamental advantage of
" mass " transportation, namely the ability to carry large numbers of
passengers on larger shared vehicles. Until progress on the medical
front enables public transportation safety risk to return to near
normal, public transit is unsustainable. However, transit's role in
providing mobility for those without alternatives remains a serious
public concern and require strategies for meeting this mobility
need. The gravity of this concern will be among the most pressing
challenges for transportation policy makers.

Esc Leo/Shutterstock

Similarly, the availability of robust transportation options and
contingency transportation capabilities for persons with disabilities
were reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the equity
challenge is ensuring access to transportation for all segments of
the population, especially in times of crisis and when travel options,
features, and delivery methods are changing.
The sensitivity to equity stands in contrast to a market-driven
delivery of transportation capacity and services. Measuring,
modeling, and forecasting demand have been critical elements of
transportation planning and decision making. The ability to scale
services and infrastructure to demand, and the subsequent effects
on the productivity of transportation, contribute to the affordability
of mobility. To the extent that equity considerations diminish the
sensitivity to demand in the allocation of resources, it could affect
the productivity and benefits of transportation investments and
the willingness of the private sector to accept market risks as a
participant in providing mobility.
Understanding and analyzing equity issues will be an important
but challenging consideration in decisions on providing transportation in a post-COVID-19 era. If not executed carefully and
governed by clear objectives, consideration of equity could become a
contentious process that delays and disrupts transportation progress.

Transit data show that the effect of the public health emergency
is pronounced and unprecedented. There is growing evidence
that post-COVID-19 travel behavior will be different in ways
that challenge many current public transportation services. The
magnitude of the COVID-induced changes in travel means that a
swift return to normal is unlikely. Rather, transportation professionals need to monitor emerging trends and plan accordingly for
public transportation.

Closing Thoughts
Transportation has not been without its challenges, and the
COVID-19 pandemic has both highlighted some of those challenges
and added others. We are in a particularly challenging and exciting
time. Transportation is changing at a far faster pace than in prior
decades as demographic, economic, technological, governance,
and public behaviors, values, and priorities are shifting. We
face-hopefully-transitioning to a post COVID-19 world, one with
new transportation needs. We also are on the verge of reauthorization of federal transportation legislation, seeing the prospect
for infrastructure initiatives, facing the persistent transportation
funding challenges, addressing the troubling transportation safety
trends, confronting challenges associated with defining the role
of transportation in addressing equity and opportunity, sorting
through a path forward for automated vehicles, and finding ways to
mitigate the environmental consequences of transportation without
diminishing its role in supporting the economy and quality of life.
We are armed with a more diverse and multi-disciplinary
workforce strong private sector engagement, and investment in the
future of mobility, including a plethora of technologies to assist
us in addressing the various problems including everything from
virtual participation in public meetings to logistics and operations
enhanced with artificial intelligence and powerful computing.
But we are burdened with a highly polarized and contentious
w w w .i t e.or g

Apri l 2021

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ITE Journal - April 2021

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