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Part 4 Chapter 6: Conclusions DOTs and transit agencies have learned, responded, and innovated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. One emergency manager likened the experience to âin-flight missile repairâ; another to âan intense training exercise, with one improbable inject after anotherâonly this exercise doesnât stopâit keeps going on and on and on.â â¢ A pandemic, by definition, is a novel, global event. Expect the unexpected. Pandemic expectations and reality often differ. Flexibility is critical. Remember that viruses mutate, and situations can change rapidly just as hurricanes quickly change direction and wildfires skip communities because of a change in a gust. â¢ Lessons learned can come from all types of events. A cyber ransomware incident provided lessons for telework. Agency efforts with the homeless can inform social aspects of response to a pandemic. â¢ Pandemics affect people, not infrastructure, and they do not affect everyone equally. In transportation, as in many other occupations, many employees can continue working remotely for extended periods of time while others in public-facing jobs are exposed to risk daily. Agencies must consider social equity and environmental justice in policy responses to pandemics. â¢ A pandemic is a long-term stressor that will likely require vigilance and countermeasures for months or years to come. This is not a sprint, but a marathon and could be an ultra-marathon. Together, we can help our agencies, our employees, and the public weather a pandemic and adapt to the longer term impacts by becoming stronger, more resilient, more compassionate, and more aware of our human fragility and common humanity. Silver Linings Pandemics, just as other events, bring the good along with the bad. Agencies can discover âsilver liningsâ as they struggle to respond and recover. Transportation agency responses to COVID-19 have created some significant benefits to agencies, their employees, and the community. Notable examples from response to COVID-19 include: FOR EMPLOYEES â¢ A leap forward in widespread adaptation and acceptance of remote work technology. This led to increased productivity and improved employee work/life balance for many employees due to reduced or eliminated commuting time. In addition, this change creates greater resilience to future events. â¢ A new definition, understanding, and appreciation for âessential workers.â COVID-19 has defined them as health workers, bus and train operators, truck drivers, postal service employees and delivery personnel, grocery store and pharmacy personnel, food processing workers, and manufacturers. A Pandemic Playbook for Transportation Agencies 53
Transportation is a crucial, common thread for all these essential workers. â¢ Better relationships within and outside of the organization. As the head of MST put it, âThis has forced us to not just talk about problems, but to get to know each other as people and develop a relationship â thatâs helped out a lot.â FOR THE AGENCY â¢ Reduced peak hour and overall traffic volumes enabled some highway construction and reconstruction projects to advance faster than scheduled with additional available work hours. â¢ Sped up implementation of planned equipment and technology such as protective barriers for operators and contactless credit card payment systems. â¢ Changed how the community perceives transportation agencies. âThey see us â¦ not as a stodgy, bureaucratic entitlement program but as a solution that they need,â according to the CEO of MST. FOR THE COMMUNITY â¢ Reduced peak congestion has given a boost to the complete streets movement, enabling some cities and towns to âreclaimâ traffic lanes for bicycle, pedestrian, or exclusive bus lane use; some of these temporary adjustments may become permanent. â¢ New appreciation for local suppliers of essential materials with an understanding of ways to strengthen weak links in the supply chain and how transportation agencies can support them. Moving Forward Although the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in our systems of response and recovery, it highlights the importance of transportation as an essential service. Because of COVID-19, our lives have changed. Because we are living in an age of viruses, the risk of another pandemic after COVID-19 is likely. Therefore, a renewed focus on transportation resilience is essential. Pandemic resilience requires that, at a minimum, agencies: â¢ Maintain a hygienic system â¢ Promote and communicate new health/safety norms â¢ Protect workers and the public â¢ Mitigate passenger and traffic congestion with dynamic vehicle management and real-time status information â¢ Make space for social distancing As a Jacksonville local transportation agency summarized it, âThe pandemic has given us the opportunity to pause and reflect on what we currently provide in terms of our services, and we are using it frankly as the momentum to be the transportation network of the future.â A Pandemic Playbook for Transportation Agencies 54