During COVID-19, specialized transit agency rises to public health challenge

Some municipalities have adopted an all-hands-on-deck approach to meeting residents’ needs during the global pandemic, and that’s certainly the case for Ontario’s Peel Region and the specialized transit agency, TransHelp.

While TransHelp saw its trips drop from about 2,500 a day to 500 during the pandemic (now creeping up to around 800 a day), the team was called upon to serve residents in other ways.

“The Region as a whole has sort of banded together to support the communities that we serve,” says Eric Bacon, TransHelp operations supervisor. For his agency, that meant the creation of new services.

“We are now transporting COVID-positive passengers to and from life-sustaining appointments, such as dialysis,” he explains. “That stuff doesn’t stop because COVID exists. People still need to get to their appointments.” The new service required a lot of training and risk mitigation, including obtaining a significant amount of personal protection equipment.

“Beyond that, we also help our colleagues in Human Services by transporting COVID-positive people who are experiencing homelessness to and from designated isolation centres, ensuring they have a safe place to recover.”

“So, while our regular service has certainly decreased, which is something that you’ll see now across North America and the world, the call to action to support the pandemic response in Peel has certainly increased.”

The shift wasn’t without its challenges. “A lot of our front-line employees were nervous,” says Eric. “There were some tough conversations at the beginning, but we’ve had great support from our employees. They’ve been fantastic throughout.”

“We’ve also redeployed employees to other sections of the Region. We have about six or seven of our employees currently working in different public health areas, as well as long-term care homes. They’ve been able to step out of their regular role to sort of offset the staffing challenges that a lot of our long-term care homes are currently facing.”

“We went from a public transit agency to a public health agency…It’s been a nice experience to learn these things and see the impact that we’re having.”

TransHelp conducts its specialized public transit and pandemic-related transportation with its fleet of about 65 buses, running entirely on propane. “We know propane is more environmentally friendly, which aligns with the Region’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

“When propane was introduced, it was looked at as a cost saving, but I think that coin has flipped, and now people recognize it as a green alternative.”

“It’s been a great fit for our organization.”