Innovative Ways that Transportation Providers are Responding to the Crisis

One of the indelible effects of the COVID-19 outbreak is the dramatic decrease in travel within metropolitan areas. Those with the luxury to stop traveling have clearly done so. Passenger vehicle travel is estimated to have dropped by nearly half in recent days and public transit use by around 90 percent. While roadways are still open, transit agencies have shut down much of their service and are urging riders not to ride.

That does not mean that the demand for transportation stopped. In fact, the pandemic highlights how critical transportation is in a time of crisis, especially for health care workers, medical providers, and emergency responders, who urgently need to get to patients, facilities, and labs. Fortunately, some agencies and companies are teaming up to apply the innovation that now abounds in transportation to respond to the crisis.

In this time of social distancing, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority partnered with technology firms Beep and NAVYA to use autonomous vehicles to shuttle COVID-19 samples to the nearby Mayo Clinic for testing. The so-called low speed autonomous vehicle (LSAV) has no driver or other passengers and runs along a dedicated route, protecting staff from exposure to the virus. (Based on the video it looks like attendants are using electric scooters to ride along the outside of the LSAV, too.)

To move the health care workers safely Uber began offering them free rides between their homes and medical facilities. Lyft and Spin are providing fare-free rides on their e-scooters and Revel is doing the same in New York on their fleet of mopeds. Of course, many transit agencies have already gone zero-fare for bus trips, others like Chicago’s commuter rail provider, Metra, are letting medical workers ride their trains for free.

In Europe, France “medicalized” some its high-speed trains, essentially converting them into mobile emergency rooms. They now move virus-infected patients from hard-hit parts of the country where medical supplies and hospital space is scarce, to other regions in France able to accommodate the swelling number of cases. Stretchers replace the seats on the train which can accommodate up to 50 medical staff more comfortably and with more room that an airplane or helicopter. The trains may ultimately move patients throughout Europe.

In the air, some tech companies are pleading to allow government rule makers to relax restrictions and allow them to transport medical supplies and tests by drone. Spain used unmanned aerial system vehicles to notify residents without telecommunications services to stay at home. (The U.S. Defense Department has already ruled out using drones to “mist” disinfectants over large outdoor spaces as was done in South Korea and China.)

The cuts in public transit service are obviously necessary to slow the spread of the disease. The need to keep people at safe distances makes medical workers’ jobs unfathomably difficult and hazardous. It is heartening to see transportation providers – both public and private – stepping up to help combat the crisis. Now let’s see even more.

Do you have examples of public or private transportation agencies/providers/companies applying innovative ideas, policies, or practices to help medical professionals respond to the crisis? Share it with Eno staff.

Search Eno Transportation Weekly

Latest Issues

Happening on the Hill