March 11, 2021 was a monumental day for the future of Transit in the US. The House of Representatives passed legislation that cleared the path for one of the most expensive and extensive economic rescue plans in US history. When President Biden signed the historic $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law on March 11th, he earmarked $30.5 billion specifically to help rescue public transit.
Money Well Spent
Biden's administration has whole-heartedly embraced sustainable public transit networks as necessary, to help support essential and front-line workers and communities disproportionately hurt by the pandemic. A big chunk of the funds will help bail out transit agencies who have suffered and to set them up for future success. And with over 95 million vaccines already administered across the US, this relief has come just in time, and will continue until 2023, when the world is predicted to function more as it did before COVID.
Lethbridge Transit Got on Board
It's no surprise that most companies around the globe have had to adapt their operations because of the pandemic and TripSpark partner, Lethbridge Transit, has been no exception. When ridership plummeted by 90%, Lethbridge quickly pivoted to a holiday schedule – operating the same hours but with fewer buses. By mid-March, they had to switch to back-door boarding, offering free rides to improve accessibility and reduce contact with drivers. This type of operation was not sustainable or safe, so Lethbridge got on board with TripSpark's recommendation to modify their service to account for lower ridership and impose social distancing requirements. To adapt to the new transit requirements, Lethbridge replaced their fixed route service with an on-demand service that helped ensure riders could safely make essential trips.
Lethbridge opted to implement a microtransit-type service model using their full-sized fixed route busses. By setting their maximum passenger occupancy in Novus, they were able to control ridership and ensure that threshold was not exceeded. According to Jeff Gillette, GIS/Applications Specialist for Lethbridge Transit “By using Novus and the Ranger, drivers were already familiar with the hardware, and many of our staff were familiar with the software." Execution was nearly effortless as they were able to import all their fixed route stops as pickup or drop-off locations into the demand-response software.
Transportation Will Survive and Thrive
Like Lethbridge, many transit agencies have had to make major changes to how they provide service just to survive the effects of the pandemic. By signing this historic plan, that gives tens of billions to the transit industry, President Biden has introduced a strategy for those in our industry, to exit the crisis thriving.