Writer: Catie Schwartzman
2 min read February 2021 — Maintaining Florida’s expansive public transportation amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been arduous. No one knows that better than Palm Tran Executive Director Clinton B. Forbes, who says more funding is needed. “We have to fight hard to get our riders back,” Forbes told the Florida State Senate Transportation Committee as quoted in Mass Transit Magazine. “Everything we have done so well; we now have to do like those initiatives are on steroids.”
At the committee meeting on Feb. 2, he testified for more support and funding for Florida’s transit agencies. Though none of Florida’s transit agencies closed this past year, the systems lost about 50% of their passengers. Palm Tran experienced the double-edged sword of working fervently to make transportation safe while recognizing that many of their customers would no longer feel comfortable taking public transit and would pursue alternate modes of transportation.
Palm Tran mandated masks, decreased ridership capacity, installed heavy-duty shields, installed UV light to eliminate bacteria and ramped up cleaning protocols.
Florida’s public transportation system stayed above water in 2020 through pandemic relief packages like the CARES Act. However, to continue operating on all four cylinders with health and safety standards upheld to reinstill consumer confidence, Forbes attests that more funding is necessary.
Progress has yet to slow down on expansion of Florida’s public transportation either. Palm Beach County will, in fact, close railroad crossings in Jupiter, Palm Beach Gardens and West Palm Beach to complete upgrades for Brightline’s Orlando extension project, which will connect South Florida to Orlando International Airport.
Palm Beach County continues to offer diverse modes of transportation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to fixed route bus service, Palm Tran also offers the county-wide door-to-door service Palm Tran CONNECTION to the elderly and disabled. This service mobilizes residents who are unable to transport themselves to healthcare, employment, education and other essential activities, all the more necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other services up and running include Go Glades, “a new flex-deviated service in the Belle Glade, Pahokee, and South Bay area,” the tri-rail and the privately operated Brightline. Trolley service has been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Palm Beach County’s public transportation system shows no signs of stopping growth and widespread accessibility of its services. However, to sustain its employees, its facilities and its funds, the public transportation system deeply needs financial aid from the state that matches the detrimental impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on consumer confidence. Forbes provided a plan of action in the conclusion of his presentation to increase the State Public Transit Block Grant and make grants more flexible.
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