The importance of a viable transportation network has been proven throughout the COVID-19 crisis: airports have to remain open for flights carrying essential personnel and goods to cities where they are most needed; buses and trains must transport frontline workers to jobs where many are treating the critically ill; highways, bridges and roads need to be maintained for trucks carrying important freight across the country. But stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions have significantly impacted the industry and the revenue stream that is needed for basic daily operations—working from home has cut out business air travel and daily commuters paying transit fares and highway tolls, for example.
As the transportation industry transitions from COVID-19 response to recovery, leading the way in the Greater Philadelphia region and in Pennsylvania are PHL CEO Chellie Cameron, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) General Manager Leslie Richards and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Secretary Yassmin Gramian—three women in a traditionally male dominated industry. Cameron, Richards and Gramian discussed how their industry has changed and what the future might look like as part of “Innovation Amid Crisis: Moving PA Forward”, a B.PHL Innovation Fest panel moderated by PHL Chief Administrative Officer Soledad Alfaro on September 17.
Throughout the hour-long session, the panelists discussed the difficulties they have faced are much like those in other industry, such as moving many employees from the office setting to working from home, coupled with maintaining critical infrastructure and essential operations 24 hours a day. “This crisis has gone on for so long, figuring out how to keep the energy level going for an extended period of time has been challenging,” said Cameron.
Before ending the session, each participant spoke of some immediate measures their organizations have taken to help with the long-term recovery. PHL is taking advantage of Philadelphia’s mid-Atlantic location to increase cargo operations. SEPTA has restructured fares to accommodate for a workforce not commuting to the office on public transit every day. PennDOT making sure the roads are safe and passable for the increased truck and freight traffic.
While recovery will take an estimated three-to-five years and rely on additional government funding, Cameron, Richards and Gramian are optimistic because of the goodwill they have witnessed from the people in their organizations. “Philadelphians don’t quit,” said Cameron.