Most Americans are navigating these uncertain times by isolating at home, as we’ve been asked to do. Others, by no choice of their own, have to be out and about. They include the essential workers who provide crucial services, like health care providers, grocers, and the sanitation crews that keep our streets clean. Others are people who must venture out for food, essential supplies, or critical medical care, such as patients needing chemotherapy, dialysis, and prenatal care, despite what’s happening.
Many of those who must go out depend on public transportation to get them where they need to go. We are grateful for all the public transit employees who play a crucial role in connecting people to life-sustaining jobs, goods, and services during this time. Public transportation is always the backbone of efficient, modern transportation networks, but over the past several weeks we have seen how especially vital it is as a lifeline when our communities are in crisis.
Say hello to Harriet. She’s a cancer patient who lives alone and doesn’t drive. Harriet has been using her public transportation system’s paratransit services to get to her weekly chemotherapy appointments at the hospital on time and back home safely after. Her local system is taking extraordinary measures to keep all their vehicles clean and safe, and encouraging social distancing, which is particularly important for someone like Harriet.
Passing Harriet in the opposite direction is Luca, a tired nurse using public transportation to get home safely from his shift after another night of giving critical care to sick people. Luca waves at his friend Claire as she heads to her job at the grocery store. Claire’s husband is an engineer at the local water company and needs their family car to get back and forth for his essential work. Without public transportation, Claire wouldn’t have a way to get to the store where she keeps the shelves stocked with the food, household goods, and cleaning supplies people in her community need.
Next up is Derek, a pharmacist who reads the latest updates on potential drug therapies for COVID-19 and their interactions with other medications on his ride to the pharmacy. The community counts on him to make sure they have access to the regular medications they depend on, as well as treatments to help with spring colds and flu, allergies, and, yes, the symptoms of coronavirus.
Derek passes by Theo. Theo is one of the delivery drivers we rely on to bring us the goods we are having shipped to our homes to minimize our need to go out to the stores. Theo relies on the train to get him to the company lot where he picks up the truck he’ll use to make the day’s deliveries.
Theo walks by Denise, a construction worker who is boarding the train to go home after a night shift on a major infrastructure project rebuilding one of the city’s older bridges. Denise lives in a one-car household, and public transportation allows her to get to work while her partner who is taking care of the kids keeps the car at home in case there is an emergency.
The reliability of Steve’s local bus rapid transit (BRT) system saves this tired EMT time, energy, and effort getting to the fire station where he will spend the next 24 hours responding to 911 calls and providing safe medical transportation for individuals who may have COVID-19 and need to get to the hospital but can’t use public transit.
And finally, Janet is one of the many public transit operators going to great lengths to serve her community. It’s the dedication of these everyday heroes working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic that ensures others in need of essential transportation can get where they need to go.
Supporting public transit means supporting the people who need it, as well as a huge range of industries that keep our country going. And as it turns out, supporting the people and systems that connect and sustain us is exactly what we need to do to get through this time together.
(Most of us should not be using public transit at this time, so please stay home unless it’s absolutely necessary for you to go out. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, PLEASE DO NOT use public transit to get to the doctor or hospital. Call your doctor first, and she or he can help you arrange safe transportation, if necessary.)