The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in significant declines in transit service and ridership. Transit agencies are facing an uphill battle to bring back ridership, because fears of shared mobility may linger, even after the worst of the pandemic wanes. In order to come out of this crisis, agencies will need to innovate and consider strategic investments to make transit service more competitive. This will include instituting safety precautions to reduce touch points for payment and when entering and exiting a service vehicle or station. During the height of the pandemic, many agencies provided fare-free service to protect drivers and riders from exposure. But in order to bring back fares safely, agencies will need to consider touchless systems or mobile payments. The crisis does present an opportunity to improve the transit network by building an integrated safe payment system that can integrate transit operations across the state.
The pandemic only underscores that California’s transit network is fractured and disjointed. Moving between cities on public transit, and in many cases within regions, requires moving between operators with different payment mediums and scheduling specifications. This is a major deterrent for riders, especially the most disadvantaged, to choose transit. Following the passage of 2004 legislation to establish integrated payments for California transit, the state initiated the California Integrated Travel Project (Cal-ITP) which developed a multi-phased approach for studying and implementing integrative solutions for transit. The goals of this seed grant include working with the Cal-ITP to identify the background concerns of transit agencies, to be evaluated through a future study that will focus on transit agency perspectives, capacity, and barriers with respect to the implementation of integrated travel. We will work with Cal-ITP to develop an outreach and research plan that addresses potential impacts, aligning with the outcomes of the recent market sounding efforts. This seed grant will include an evaluation of the potential strategies and programs to achieve the goals of Cal-ITP. The outcomes of this project will ensure that transit agency needs are addressed as these strategies are further evaluated and as the next phase of planning is set in motion.