AECOM virtual room

CRE Opinion

This is How You And Social Distancing Can Change Public Transportation

When it comes to projects like Dart's D2 subway, AECOM VP Dev Rastogi says we can't just return to a new normal. We must create a better normal.

An unprecedented pandemic has all of us in unfamiliar territory, but AECOM, the global infrastructure firm I proudly work for, has been here before. We have a storied success of responding to crisis—we helped the East Coast after Hurricane Sandy, and we were there after Hurricane Irma devastated the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Now, as some of us are transitioning back to the office, we are thinking more about the impact of transit on our daily commute.

Public transportation agencies play an essential role in lowering carbon emissions by easing traffic congestion, connecting people with jobs and opportunities, and have a four-to-one ratio in economic return.

Dev Rastogi

Transit agencies will continue to serve these vital functions as new trends in workplace practices, and commuting evolves during our post-COVID-19 recovery. They are charged with reimagining service to keep people moving while ensuring the health and safety of both riders and operators.

Differing perspectives from project owners, consultants, contractors, and stakeholders in the community are needed when it comes to addressing how to safely resume operations, continue existing projects and develop new priorities while meeting key health guidelines, schedules and budgets.

To accomplish these goals, the focus is simple and clear: our return-to-service is not a return to normal or a new normal. We’re creating a better normal.

As businesses re-open, commuter behavior will continue to change. The ability to collect and communicate information promptly is key to our better normal, which will require the deployment of critical digital tools like DART’s GoPass or AECOM’s Rider Survey App that records travel behaviors as they happen, enabling agencies to adapt to changes in ridership and demand.

What do passengers need? What do they like? How are demographics changing? These tools provide game-changing, real-time updates, taking the pulse of commuters, which allows agencies to make timely shifts in current operations, and future planning.

Real-time ridership updates and demand are not the only focus areas for transit agencies—they are also focused on the “before” effect of projects during the planning and design process.

Public and stakeholder engagement is vital during this phase to ensure the viability of a project’s life cycle.

DART’s D2 subway project, which is a future second light rail line through downtown Dallas, is one such example. With the need for social distancing, new virtual public engagement tools will play an important role in outreach to the community for projects like this. We just saw TxDOT hold a virtual public meeting to receive feedback from Tarrant County residents on a safety enhancement project.

Digital tools such as AECOM’s virtual public meeting allow agencies to receive instant public feedback and provides communities with ample opportunities to make their voice heard.

No longer do we need to clear our schedules to attend a public meeting at an inconvenient time or a location that may be difficult to reach. We’re bringing public meetings to the masses in the comfort of their own homes on their own time. Virtual public meeting rooms allow participants to view informational boards and interactive information, or leave comments for consideration, which is the same process for in-person public meetings.

Digital tools help us create a better normal, effectively gathering feedback and data more frequently by bringing engagement activities directly to the public. One thing is sure; digital innovation will continue to benefit transit and public agencies long after social distancing is over as it provides one more way to solicit input from the public and provide information yielding a diversity of thought.

Dev Rastogi is the vice president and Dallas executive at AECOM.

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