Public transit agencies struggle to maintain transit accessibility with reduced resources, unreliable ridership data, reduced vehicle capacities due to social distancing, and reduced services due to driver unavailability. In collaboration with transit agencies from two large metropolitan areas in the USA, we are designing novel approaches for addressing the afore-mentioned challenges by collecting accurate real-time ridership data, providing guidance to commuters, and performing operational optimization for public transit. We estimate rider-ship data using historical automated passenger counting data, conditional on a set of relevant determinants. Accurate ridership forecasting is essential to optimize the public transit schedule, which is necessary to improve current fixed lines with on-demand transit. Also, passenger crowding has been a problem for public transportation since it deteriorates passengers' wellbeing and satisfaction. During the COVID-19 pandemic, passenger crowding has gained importance since it represents a risk for social distancing violations. Therefore, we are creating optimization models to ensure that social distancing norms can be adequately followed while ensuring that the total demand for transit is met. We will then use accurate forecasts for operational optimization that includes (a) proactive fixed-line schedule optimization based on predicted demand, (b) dispatch of on-demand micro-transit, prioritizing at-risk populations, and (c) allocation of vehicles to transit and cargo trips, considering exigent vehicle maintenance requirements (i.e., disinfection). Finally, this paper presents some initial results from our project regarding the estimation of ridership in public transit.