Can a Private-Sector Mindset Help Transit Agencies Innovate?

Can a Private-Sector Mindset Help Transit Agencies Innovate?
Can a Private-Sector Mindset Help Transit Agencies Innovate?
By Lyndsey Scofield, Principal Consultant

We may not be able to expect public services to operate like private sector businesses, but we wholeheartedly believe that they can operate with a private sector mindset in ways that increase value to customers and taxpayers. In that spirit, we thought it’d be helpful to round up some examples of how the private sector is adapting to the challenges brought upon by the prolonged pandemic, and how public transit agencies may apply some of these ideas and lessons to their own responses over the coming year.

In an article from MIT’s Sloan School of Management that identified proactive response strategies that match organizational infrastructure with emerging market trends, one of the questions they suggest for industries that have seen major reductions in customer demand is “Can we use our existing infrastructure to offer services that are in demand?”

This is what Lyft is doing in seeking future partnership programs to deliver groceries, COVID-19 tests, and other medical supplies. Could transit play a larger role in these spaces or with the soon-to-come vaccines, such as promoting and providing transportation to vaccination sites? Perhaps agencies can seek revenue-generating sponsorships for these initiatives that provide the opportunity for the sponsoring company to increase their own reputation as a community partner.

MIT’s researchers have also conducted studies that point to the financial and moral imperative of organizations, boosting what they term the “risk-to-value proposition.” In short, organizations that establish reputations for having safer locations will be rewarded by risk-averse clients.

One of the best examples of boosting risk-to-value in the transportation sector is Delta Air Lines. Delta understands that continuing to lead the field in health and safety responses is key to building confidence about traveling with both their customers and their workforce. Most recently, they have announced a partnership with CVS Health to accelerate employee COVID-19 testing with a rapid-response option for flight crews. A CVS Health clinician is actually on site at crew lounges to administer the tests in less than 15 minutes, making this extremely convenient for their employees. Delta is also partnering with the CDC to launch a contact tracing program, which they say is adding one more layer to their efforts to ensure safety throughout travel. Can transit agencies pursue a similar on-site testing partnership, or even partner with other employers in their community to “share” a clinician? Can transit apps be deployed for contact tracing?

Hilton is another heavily-impacted company that is leaning in to restore confidence and finding ways to monetize its response through strategic partnerships. Their CleanStay program includes a very public partnership and co-branding with Lysol and Dettol. Can transit agencies borrow this tactic and bring on partnerships with brands customers trust and recognize?

Exacerbated by the pandemic, transit as we know it is facing an existential crisis – where there is no guarantee that organizations will return to operating how they did pre-COVID. Is it possible for transit agencies to adopt some of the urgency and momentum of private companies, which must adapt and innovate or go out of business?

It truly is a challenging time for transit, but it is also an opportunity to adapt and build resiliency. We are confident your teams can come up with even more innovative ways to come back stronger, and we hope these ideas can provide some inspiration.