In order to speed up herd immunity, four cities are proactively building flexible transit networks that will accelerate the number of doses distributed.
The world is at a crossroads in the fight against COVID-19. On the one hand, we now have multiple, highly effective vaccines that can finally help tame the spread. But on the other, more infectious strains of the virus could be fuelling a spike in cases and deaths.
That’s why it’s essential for communities to vaccinate their populations as quickly as possible. It’s a race against time and in order to win it, communities must remove the types of barriers that cause underserved populations to miss out on vaccinations. Transportation is one of those barriers.
Four forward-thinking cities are building new transit options that get residents to healthcare appointments and increase access to vaccines for those who are most vulnerable.
In a year not impacted by a pandemic, nearly four million people in the US forego medical care because they lack access to affordable transportation. This problem has grown even more acute as pandemic-related budget cuts have limited safe transportation options for vulnerable populations.
In response, municipalities across the globe are stepping up to help individuals in need access COVID-19 vaccines — all with the assistance of some light-touch TransitTech. Four forward-thinking cities are building new transit options to shuttle residents to healthcare appointments on-demand.
Wilson, North Carolina
With support and collaboration from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), the city of Wilson — a community of just under 50,000 — has expanded its RIDE on-demand service to provide transportation to and from COVID-19 vaccination appointments using both CARES Act funding and concept funds from the NCDOT. The NCDOT has played a pivotal role in designing this service and plans to use it as a pilot programme to inform the establishment of similar vaccine transportation services across the state.
This on-demand transportation to and from vaccine appointments is provided at no cost to riders. Wilson is coordinating with local health agencies to communicate the free transportation option during the vaccine sign-up process.
Tees Valley, United Kingdom
Tees Flex is an on-demand service powered by Via and operated by Stagecoach North East in partnership with the Tees Valley Combined Authority, helping residents in a rural region of the United Kingdom access essential services.
With support from Via, the Tees Flex service zone rapidly expanded within only 24 hours to include the Darlington Arena, which has been designated as a hub for mass COVID-19 vaccinations starting on February 1.
Tees Flex offers on-demand and pre-booked rides, enabling residents to book a trip up to 28 days in advance of their vaccination appointment, and then flexibly request an on-demand ride back home, with rides costing as little as 50p — or even free for some residents.
In October 2020, Via partnered with Miami-Dade County Transit and local municipalities to launch GO Connect — an on-demand service complementing existing transit infrastructure. The service currently operates in Dadeland and the Town of Cutler Bay, with additional zones to be launched in February.
Now, GO Connect is operating a vaccine service and spreading the word to local hospitals and senior centres. Riders can easily view and book trips to their vaccination appointments through GO Connect’s smartphone app, where COVID-19 vaccination sites are specifically highlighted as points of interest throughout the service zone.
In December 2020, Via partnered with the City of Gainesville and Hall County, Georgia, to launch WeGo. This on-demand service allows residents of Gainesville — a business hub with a population of more than 40,000 — to take quick and affordable rides around the city.
This month, WeGo is launching a programme to transport residents with COVID-19 vaccination appointments to one of the many vaccination sites within the city for just $1 each way.
Health access transportation with Via
Even in ordinary times, access to safe and affordable transportation is a major social determinant of health. Missed appointments lead to worse health outcomes, complicating the management of chronic conditions and delaying diagnosis of diseases that are treatable when caught early. Missed appointments also cause soaring costs to our health system: One estimate places the total cost of missed and unfilled appointments at $150 billion annually in the United States and the NHS says no-shows incur costs of more than £216 million per year in the UK.
For healthcare providers, insurers, and public and community health agencies, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Providing reliable transportation for vulnerable communities to access medical care has benefits on both individual and larger, societal levels.