Two months ago, Metro Mobility and its contractors never would have imagined they would be completely altering their service model. The regular service provides shared-ride public transportation for certified riders who are unable to use regular fixed-route buses due to a disability or health condition. In the midst of this outbreak, these rides have slowed to a trickle.
“Our first priority has always been to keep our customers safe and because of that, most riders are doing just that and staying home in compliance with the governor’s stay-at-home order,” said Nick Thompson, director of Metropolitan Transportation Services. “Regular ridership is down 80% since early March. This has given us the capacity to help in other ways.”
When the Metro Mobility grocery and goods delivery launched, Met Council contractors and staff also recognized an opportunity to support local food shelves in delivering food to those most in need. Our staff reached out to food shelves across the region, and as expected, food shelves were looking for alternatives to curbside pickup.
Transit Team mobilizes to contact food shelves
From these initial contacts, Transit Team, one of our Metro Mobility providers, mobilized their resources to contact the interested food shelves and work on setting up the service to best fit their needs. The Food Support Program at Neighborhood House was one of the first to start the Metro Mobility delivery service.
“Our food shelf had a choice model prior to the outbreak, which allows our families to come in to shop and choose the items that they wanted,” said Neighborhood House Food Support Program Manager Georgi Nguyen. “We knew that continuing that model during the current climate would put everyone at risk, so we shifted to a prepacked emergency bag model.”
Neighborhood House, along with other Twin Cities food shelves, had significant concerns about the health risks that come with groups of people shopping. They had already put in place emergency bags for customers to pick up at the curb; however, they were concerned about people who were high risk leaving their homes.
“It has been a great addition to our services,” Nguyen emphasized. “We are now able to encourage families who are high risk to remain within the safety of their home and to not worry about coming to our food shelf to pick up groceries. Families have also been very grateful when we share our delivery option.”
More than two dozen food shelves sign on
As of April 16, there are 25 food shelves that have taken advantage of the new service, with nearly 1,100 families served. In addition to families already facing food insecurity, job loss and access to jobs have created more challenges for those families, along with those who are no longer working because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Transportation has always been a longstanding issue for the families we serve,” said Nguyen. “We heard many people express that they had stopped taking public transportation due to fear of contracting COVID-19, but we were unable to provide delivery with our current capacity so our partnership with the Met Council has been amazing!”
Thompson praised Met Council staff and service providers whose creativity and entrepreneurial spirit have helped devise the best ways to serve the public during the COVID-19 outbreak. “We’re grateful that Metro Mobility is able to help when people are facing such a difficult time. At the same time, we’re protecting the service that is a lifeline to so many people across the region who have a disability.”
We continue to monitor the evolving impacts of the outbreak and will review and adjust our approach to fit the needs of both Metro Mobility customers and those most adversely affected by COVID-19. This is how the organization can support emerging community needs when we’re able and provide for our customers who have critical needs.