Use of public transport and shared mobility has declined sharply during the pandemic. To stay alive, transit agencies and other transportation services in Greater Minnesota need to save customers. A recent project identified driver preferences, safety measures and service improvements to increase interest and use in alternative transportation. Robust public transportation services are critical to the long-term viability of rural areas, small towns, and smaller urban areas in Minnesota. Shared transport resources support sustainability and equity initiatives and goals, as well as increase the livability of a region. "We now have some good ideas and strategies to share with transit agencies that are considering changes or improvements to their service, including what's important to certain communities," said Elliott McFadden, MnDOT program coordinator. Greater Minnesota Shared Mobility Program. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, use of public transit and shared transportation services has dropped, including in Greater Minnesota. Social distancing measures, general discomfort or safety concerns resulted in a 40% reduction in trips across the state. Urban transit agencies saw a 55% reduction in their revenue, while smaller transit agencies saw reductions of up to 80%. While it is critical to re-engage drivers into public transport and shared mobility, there is little research focusing on communicable diseases and public transport-related risk perceptions, particularly outside of large urban areas. MnDOT wanted to learn about strategies that public transport agencies and mobility services can use to reassure potential users that alternative transport is safe and effective. What Was Our Goal? The purpose of this project was to explore perceived safety risks and other barriers that could keep potential travelers in Greater Minnesota from using public transportation and shared mobility services in the post-COVID era. What did we do? The project began with a review of the literature on the perceived risks of different populations in relation to the spread of infectious diseases in public transport or on public transport. The findings provided a set of security protocols, cost assessments and other strategies to deliver secure, low-risk services. In the fall of 2021, researchers surveyed Greater Minnesotans to understand their perceptions, concerns, and preferences for alternative transportation services. The online survey collected demographic and employment status information, as well as immunization status and the potential for increased COVID risks in a household. Participants also indicated whether they hesitated to use the new technology and whether they shopped online. Implementing security measures for car-based shared mobility services can be difficult given the use of private vehicles. The survey then explored risk perceptions and modes of transport used before and during the pandemic. Participants identified preferred safety measures such as face mask requirements, social distancing, increased vehicle cleanliness and screening of drivers. In addition to security measures, respondents identified service improvements they would like to see, including frequency and timeliness, lower fees, and real-time availability information. Finally, respondents were asked about their interest in public transport and shared mobility in an ideal future. Analysis of the results identified variations based on geographic, demographic, socio-economic, and other factors. The results informed the safety and communication strategies that public transport agencies and shared mobility services can use to increase the value and security of shared transport. What did we learn? Survey results from more than 750 respondents identified the most important aspects of public transport and shared mobility services for current or potential users. While most respondents showed a strong interest in using alternative transport, driving alone remained the most common mode of transport. Aside from having better alternatives, the main reasons reported for not using other mods were lack of access and lack of interest. Factors that predict future public transport use include income and vehicle ownership. "Project results can help agencies re-engage their clients by identifying demographic groups that are more likely to use public transit resources given certain safety or service improvements and barriers," said Yingling Fan, professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. More than half of the respondents indicated some level of safety concern with alternative transportation. Groups with the highest levels of concern included women, people at high risk of infection in their homes, and city dwellers. Online shoppers also expressed increased concern. Overall, the most preferred safety measures reported were frequent cleaning of public transport vehicles and stops, and increased ventilation and filtration in public transport. Other popular measures include mandating face masks, providing hand sanitizer and practicing social distancing. Survey respondents reported that service improvements are almost as important as safety improvements, suggesting that there are important strategies to increase passenger numbers. More frequent and faster routes followed by real-time information about vehicles and routes were the top-ranked improvements. The data revealed an unexpected finding regarding trip planning tools and contactless payment technology Three groups were less likely to opt for these improvements. By identifying the preferences of both public and major transit groups, and the cost and timelines for implementation, the researchers created a decision-making matrix for transit agency safety and service improvements. For car-based shared mobility services, the researchers suggested encouraging drivers to implement safety measures and marketing strategies to emphasize their health insurance. What's next? MnDOT can share these strategies and findings with public transport organizations that are evaluating safety or service improvements to rebuild passenger numbers post-pandemic. Additionally, the agency has kicked off the second phase of this effort by supporting six rural transportation agencies in western Minnesota to field-test contactless payment and travel planning technology. These findings will further inform the public transport agency's efforts to increase public confidence in its safety and value.