In response to the pressing need to investigate COVID-19’s impact on transportation, the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies secured funding to lead eight projects focusing on a range of transportation interests. 

The UCLA ITS projects will tackle issues related to the impact of the coronavirus and pandemic on California’s transportation finance, the transportation needs of vulnerable populations, and the recovery trajectory for public transit. These eight research and engagement activities account for almost half of the total projects funded by the University of California Institute of Transportation Studies COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Initiative, with an additional 10 projects being led by research teams at UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UC Irvine.

In April, UC ITS announced that it would dedicate a portion of its annual research program to fast-track funding specifically studying the impact of COVID-19 on public health, the economy and transportation. Earlier this year, UC ITS directors and staff consulted with the UC ITS Board of Advisors to define the state’s pandemic-related transportation research priorities. Concurrently, the UC ITS solicited project ideas, data collection needs, and researcher qualifications from across the UC system.

Aside from transportation finance, vulnerable populations and transit, other topic areas to be studied by the UC ITS campus teams include critical goods movement, changes in travel behavior, and crisis as an opportunity for resilient, sustainable and equitable transportation. 

Given the urgency of the topics, the projects will be conducted on an accelerated timeframe of three to six months.

Full List of UCLA ITS COVID-19 Research Projects

Research Lead Description
Impacts to State and Local Transportation Revenues Martin Wachs This research activity will examine changes to local sales tax revenues and transportation user fees and resulting changes in local funding for transit and transportation in California. This work is being conducted in consultation with the California Assembly Transportation Committee.
Impacts to Transit Funding and Expenditures

Brian D. Taylor

Transit is most cost-effective when vehicles are crowded throughout the day, which is counter to current public health guidance. This rapid response work will inform statewide and local decisions regarding transit funding and service levels in California at a time of increasing per-passenger costs and declining revenues.
Transportation and Vulnerable Populations Evelyn Blumenberg The vast majority of low-income households in California own and travel by automobile. Survey data suggest that the current crisis likely saddles low-income families with untenable debt, which for some households may result in the loss of household vehicles. This team will analyze the potential effects of the COVID-19 economic crisis on automobile debt and delinquencies across neighborhoods by income and race/ethnicity.
Access to Medical Care

Katherine Chen, MD

This white paper will inform public decision-making regarding the impact of COVID-19 transportation system disruptions on access to in-person healthcare visits for certain conditions, particularly pregnancy and end-stage kidney disease. The primary audience for this white paper is state and local transportation agencies in California.
Independent Contractor Auto Availability Jacob Wasserman This white paper will examine the economic vulnerabilities of gig workers during the pandemic by focusing on one salient source of debt and spending: automobiles. Many gig workers use personal vehicles for income, driving for ridehail or courier network services; some portion of those even purchased or leased autos in order to do such work. Before the pandemic, many such workers bore a high burden of auto-related debt, and more likely do so now, just as they are effectively out of work.
Monitoring and Adjusting Transit Service During a Pandemic Brian D. Taylor In part one of this research activity, the research team will use a combination of data sources and analysis to create visualizations of transit’s performance during the pandemic. In part two, the team will create a contextual framework and guidance for assessing transit’s performance during a pandemic and cost-benefit analysis of incremental service adjustments.
A Bus Home: The Scale of the Crisis and Strategies for Responding to Homelessness in Transit Environments Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris The research team will investigate the intersection of the pandemic, transit, transportation, and homelessness in California. First, the team hopes to uncover how the pandemic and its economic effects have altered the scale and contours of the homelessness crisis in transit environments in the state’s major metropolitan areas. Second, the team will conduct a statewide web survey of staff at relevant public agencies on how the coronavirus has affected their strategies to deal with homelessness in transit environments. The team will develop an actionable set of best-practice solutions for how transit operators and departments of transportation can address homelessness during this pandemic or future disruptions.
Transit Convenings and Policy Options Juan Matute

UCLA ITS will produce two convenings and a policy options series to consider transit’s future in the state. One convening will take the form of a follow-up to the 2018 UCLA Lake Arrowhead Symposium: From Public Transit to Public Mobility and consider expanding the role of transit districts and municipal operators to include public mobility services. A second online convening will draw from other transit-related COVID-19 response and recovery work at UCLA, particularly the project to monitor transit ridership and adjust service levels accordingly.

The policy options series will help decision-makers consider significant changes to transit strategy and finance in California.