Mobility and Travel Patterns of Vulnerable Populations during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Authors: Fei Li*,
Topics: Urban Geography, Transportation Geography
Keywords: urban mobility, public transportation, inequalities, COVID-19, Atlanta
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 36
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically reshaped the movement of people in American cities. With a flurry of lockdown and shelter-in-place orders since March 2020, the use of technologies in performing daily activities or obtaining services remotely and virtually – working from home, ordering food and groceries online, telemedicine, etc. – jumped to unprecedented levels, leaving the normally busy streets and highways almost empty. Public transportation, one of the most affected systems during the pandemic, saw ridership plummeting and cut service in response. The flows of people that constitute an important part of the urban dynamic came to a sudden halt.
The virtual substitute to physical movement, however, is not an equally viable option for everybody. Essential workers and those who do not have access to or familiarity with the necessary technologies are less able to do things online and reduce physical trips. These individuals, often low-income, minorities, and transit-dependent, are also disproportionately affected by the public transportation service reductions and vulnerable to COVID-19 exposure.
In a study that examines the role of transportation barriers in health, we survey about 500 low-income individuals with chronic health conditions in Atlanta, GA, who both face a heightened risk of severe COVID-19 infections and a continued need for safe, reliable, and affordable transportation throughout the pandemic. We compare the mobility options and travel patterns among these individuals before and after the onset of the pandemic to inform policy responses that are more inclusive and sensitive to the needs of the most vulnerable.

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