Metro’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force has released A Path Forward, their final report (see above), completing the work begun in April of 2020. The release is a chance to highlight the recommendations and final changes to them, clarify how the recommendations will be implemented (and shared back with the public), and reflect on a few lessons learned.
Recommendations in the report –- including accelerating bus and bike lanes, enhancing amenities at rail stations and bus stops, offering incentives to reduce car ownership, more seamlessly integrating services from the region’s many transit operators, and reducing construction costs —are meant to help advance better mobility and equity than before the pandemic.
The task force released a draft of the report in December 2020 for public input. More than 250 individuals and organizations submitted feedback. Some input led to adjustments to the final report, for example:
- The recommendation to expand networks of complete streets now prioritizes areas with the highest levels of injuries and deaths from vehicle collisions.
- The recommendation to integrate transit now encourages through-running regional rail and includes collaboration across county borders.
- The recommendation to accelerate joint development now seeks less vehicle parking at future Metro joint developments.
- The recommendation to share data better now calls for sharing in multiple languages as stated under Metro’s Language Assistance Plan or requested by the community.
- The recommendation to partner on green jobs and infrastructure now clarifies that this should include charging infrastructure to support bus electrification.
- The recommendation to conduct ‘We’re here for you’ communications now includes a suggestion to encourage customers and employees to get vaccinated.
Most of the feedback will be considered during implementation by departments leading the work on the relevant recommendations. A more detailed chart showing public input and how Metro will consider it is available here.
With the report complete, recovery work will move toward implementation of the 17 final recommendations. Some of these recommendations will end up being significant initiatives in and of themselves. Each of these concepts identifies an internal lead department or team of departments and includes a timeline with potential milestones for advancing and refining the recommendations.
It is also important to emphasize that if individual recommendations need a policy or program change, or additional funding, they will go to the Metro Board of Directors for discussion and public comment. In this sense, the task force report is the beginning of the story rather than the end. When there is progress to report or decision points that can benefit from public input, we will share back updates on implementing various recommendations.
Metro’s response to the pandemic and planning for recovery was an agency-wide effort. The recovery task force’s final report acknowledges many response and recovery actions taken over the past year. And it is dedicated to those members of the Metro family who lost their lives.
Task Force members and staff think it was valuable to bring together emerging leaders from across the agency on a report that could bridge departments. The task force combined short-term safety actions with recommendations for long-term mobility improvements that can help Metro and L.A. County recover and ‘build back better,’ to use a phrase that we frequently hear from the new federal administration.
Two lessons jump out from the task force’s work researching the impacts of the pandemic and recommending recovery actions.
First, COVID-19 has exacerbated existing social inequities. Black and Latino residents of LA County died at disproportionate rates. Mortality among those living in the county’s most impoverished areas was four times higher than among people living in the most affluent neighborhoods. These groups are overrepresented among essential workers and customers on Metro services. According to Metro’s October Customer Survey, bus riders who have continued to ride during the pandemic are primarily Latino (70%, up from 66% before the pandemic), and Black (18%, up from 15%), and 15% of riders have at least one disability. These insights guided the work of the recovery task force.
The crisis has highlighted the many ways that our pre-COVID “normal” is not something we want to recover to and make it more equitable.
The second is that the pandemic revealed in stark terms how vital public sector capacity is to people’s lives. The inner workings of government at all levels are usually invisible to the public. In the crucible of the pandemic, however, it became apparent that our lives and livelihoods depend in part on how rapidly and effectively the public sector can pivot and perform and communicate.
Metro did a good job overall in being responsive and adaptable. But we should learn from successes and challenges within and outside Metro. Why were some places and agencies able to test, trace and isolate to keep cases and deaths down? How did successful programs and policies maintain essential services and support lost income? What are the lessons of how vaccine development, approval, and distribution were sped up (or delayed)?
The Path Forward report can hopefully help Metro come back stronger. We thank task force members as well as those within and outside Metro who contributed to the report.