Event Recap: A Better City Conversations: Back to the Office – If, When, and How?

Written By Scott Mullen, Transportation Demand Management Director 

What do you do in uncertain times? You circle the wagons and gather information. On August 13th at noon, A Better City convened a panel of business leaders to discuss their reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic and how their workforces have adjusted to date. We then explored their current plans to resume office work, how that might look from a transportation perspective, and when they expect to reopen.

In such a dynamic environment – and with such a diverse representation of business operation types – we placed special emphasis on the plans and policies that will help move us past COVID and tried to tease out which strategies might have ‘stickiness’ once the pandemic has subsided.

We started the meeting off with an update from A Better City TMA Operations Manager, Marissa Rivera providing an overview of our work since the pandemic took hold. In April, we launched the GoMassCommute platform in partnership with several other Massachusetts TMAs. GoMassCommute provides access to robust data on aggregated commute patterns, which has been deepening as we’ve seen increasing adoption of the platform over the months since launch. In an early teaser to commuter survey data coming in through a partnership with the Boston Transportation Department and the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge, we dug into responses around planned commute changes, which are currently quite evenly split among commuters planning to continue driving alone, continue to use their habitual sustainable mode, switch to a new mode, or currently feeling unsure. This emerging pattern indicates that we are in a key moment for introducing innovations to drive behavior change; half of respondents are either planning to change their habitual commuting modes or are unsure of how they plan to go forward. This led to an appropriate launch into the meeting and discussion.

Panelists included:

Mike Regan from VHB, which has one location in a downtown high-rise and one in an office park in Watertown. Mike shared how those two operational models differed and how VHB is leveraging digital technology to ensure safety and accountability in his workforce.

Jessica Prioli from Boston Medical Center shared her unique position of trying to balance fixed parking capacity with the variables of employee, student, patient, and visitor trips that come to campus every day of the week.

Mary Connolly of Liberty Mutual offered deep learnings from LM operations locally, nationally, and internationally. Elevator crowding, childcare challenges, ‘Come Back Kits’ and more, Mary prompted a lot of big questions including the very nature of what ‘post-COVID’ might even mean.

The presentations were interspersed with interactive polls to gain insights from our audience and there was Q&A at the end. TDM Director, Scott Mullen, moderated the panel.

Our TDM team also shared details of the ongoing commuter survey with Boston Transportation Department and an exciting opportunity to participate in a cohort of companies exploring innovative TDM solutions through a grant from the Barr Foundation. We concluded the meeting with updates from A Better City's Transportation & Infrastructure team around I-90 and legislative updates.

For a recording of our A Better City Conversation, click herePassword: j7Ls9*MB

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