Research Archive

4. Foundation Research Discussion Groups

4.1 Overview of the Discussion Groups

As part of the foundation research, the SAIC team held six discussion groups in March, April, and May 2005. The groups represented:

  • Consumers/advocacy organizations (representing transportation disadvantaged) (two sessions).
  • Community non-profit transportation providers.
  • Public transit agencies.
  • Public administrators.
  • Private industry.

One objective of the first four groups was to validate the initial research findings of the SAIC team and to describe and prioritize components of an "ideal" coordinated transportation center. A second objective was to identify implementation opportunities and needs, both at the system and technology level.

Prior to the discussion groups, the first four groups received materials documenting the initial research findings presented in Sections 2 and 3 of this document. The dialogue focused on the following elements:

  • Feedback on the research conducted on: a) the needs, gaps and barriers; and b) the technologies which assist with access and mobility.
  • Discussion about the components necessary for an "ideal" accessible and coordinated transportation system.
  • Identification of the benefits/opportunities such a system would provide the agencies.
  • Information about the barriers that need to be overcome for an accessible, coordinated system to be successful.

The last three groups also discussed the technical assistance they would find necessary to implement such a system effectively. Section 4.3 provides both brief and overall summaries of each discussion group.

The last discussion group was held with the private industry (transit software vendors). Conversations focused on the following topics:

  • How would you define a replicable, scalable TMCC?
  • What is specifically needed to provide technology for a scenario like this?
  • What problems might be encountered along the way?
  • Who else do we need to talk to?

4.2 Discussion Group Format

A professional facilitator was utilized to manage and conduct discussions. Participants were made aware that the research team was listening in on the discussions, and that the team would not be participating in any dialogue or exchange. A "round-robin" facilitation technique was used to maximize participation from all participants.

The Consumers/Advocacy discussion group took place in-person in Washington, D.C. The remaining groups convened via teleconference call. Community non-profit transportation providers, public transit agencies, and public administrators discussion groups took approximately 2 hours to conduct. Between 7 to 10 individuals participated in each group. The private industry discussion group was approximately 1 hour long, and 9 participants took part in the discussion.

4.3 Discussion Group Summaries

4.3.1 Consumers /Advocacy Organizations (Representing Transportation Disadvantaged)

The Consumers/Advocacy discussion group took placed on March 15, 2005, at the Olchak Market Research (OMR) facility in Washington, DC. [67] The group comprised organizations that represented persons who are transportation disadvantaged. Individuals from the following organizations participated in the discussions:

  • American Association of People with Disabilities.
  • American Association of Retired Persons.
  • American Council of the Blind.
  • Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living.
  • Brain Injury Association of the United States.
  • National Council on Independent Living.
  • Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Highest priority was given to the use of an oversight board that would plan an accessible and coordinated system, establish and keep the vision, and keep the system "ideal." The group felt such an oversight board was necessary to ensure the availability of their next two priorities: training for the "human factor" (customer service orientation), and accessibility via multiple methods.

Repeated throughout the discussion were the following themes:

  • The need for thoughtful planning and system design with the consumers in mind.
  • The fact that presence/absence of the "human factor" with respect to technology is a prime indicator of accessibility.
  • The need for training and adequate maintenance of equipment and technology.
  • Consistency of information and technology.
  • The entrenchment of current consumers, operators, funders, and advocates.
  • The importance of integrating multiple systems.

4.3.2 Community Transportation/Non-Profit Transportation Agencies

The Community Transportation/Non-Profit Agencies discussion group took place on April 6, 2005, via teleconference call. The group consisted of transportation providers who offer reliable transportation for the transportation disadvantaged. Individuals from the following organizations participated in the discussions:

  • Capital Area Rural Transit Systems (Austin, Texas).
  • FASTRAN (Fairfax County, Virginia).
  • Medical Motor Services (Rochester, New York).
  • OATS, Inc. (Columbia, Missouri).
  • Wheels of Wellness (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).

The highest priorities for this discussion group were specific technologies (i.e., automated vehicle location, scheduling, routing, and Smart Cards); the "human factor" to make technology work for the consumer; and the leadership necessary for a universal system. With respect to technology, these providers especially recognize its importance in implementing a coordinated approach to human services transportation systems; in fact, in their discussion of the "ideal" system, these providers identified technology as the link that creates the system from the parts. This linkage creates a seamless link of providers and allows agencies to share resources – these are critical elements of coordination.

While technology has the potential to improve service to the customers, the community providers indicated that they do not have the resources to use technology to its full potential. Another barrier that the participants emphasized was, ironically, the lack of coordination at the State and Federal levels. From the perspective of these providers, coordination is a popular term, yet not reflected in the organizational structures and cultures of those entities who must work together to operate of a coordinated system.

Repeated throughout the discussion were the following themes:

  • The "human factor" will make the difference as to whether technology will work for the consumer.
  • The need for strong leadership from the top that will make coordination and technology tools a priority, as well as incentives, resources, and pilot projects that will demonstrate that leadership.
  • The partnership of coordination and technology has the potential to take us further than ever before.
  • The culture (and associated regulations) of current agency, Federal, and State bureaucracies must change for a coordinated system to work.
  • The need for a national vision (and corresponding leadership) that will make use of public transportation an extension of consumers’ life styles.

4.3.3 Public Transit Agencies

The Public Transit Agencies discussion group took place on April 12, 2005, via teleconference call. This group consisted of public transit agencies/providers who offer transit services to the public in their jurisdictions. Individuals from the following organizations participated in the discussions:

  • ACCESS Transportation Systems (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).
  • Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) (Dallas, Texas).
  • Dakota Area Resources & Transportation for Seniors (DARTS, Minneapolis, Minnesota).
  • Denver Regional Transit District (RTD) (Denver, Colorado).
  • King County Metro (Seattle, Washington).
  • Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA, Boston, Massachusetts).
  • Metropolitan Transit of Harris County (Houston, Texas).
  • Metropolitan Transportation Commission (Oakland, California).
  • Ride Connection (Portland, Oregon).
  • Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).

The highest priorities among the members of this discussion group were specific technologies (i.e., AVL, scheduling, routing, and Smart Card); the "human factor" to make technology work for the consumer; and the leadership necessary for a universal system. Like the community providers, these providers recognize importance of technology in implementing a coordinated approach to human services transportation systems; in fact, in their discussion of the "ideal" system, these providers identified technology as the link that creates the system from the parts. This linkage creates a seamless link of providers and allows agencies to share resources – these are critical elements of coordination.

While technology has the potential to improve service to the customers, the public transit agencies indicated that they do not have the resources to use technology to its full potential. Another barrier which the participants from these organizations emphasized was the lack of coordination at the State and Federal levels. From the perspective of these agencies, coordination is a popular term, yet not reflected in the organizational structures and cultures of those entities who must work together to operate of a coordinated system.

The discussion among the public transit agencies repeated identical themes to those identified by the community/non-profit providers:

  • The "human factor" will make the difference as to whether technology will work for the consumer.
  • The need for strong leadership from the top that will make coordination and technology tools a priority, as well as incentives, resources, and pilot projects that will demonstrate that leadership.
  • The partnership of coordination and technology has the potential to take us further than ever before.
  • The culture (and associated regulations) of current agency, Federal, and State bureaucracies must change for a coordinated system to work.
  • The need for a national vision (and corresponding leadership) that will make use of public transportation an extension of consumers' life styles.

4.3.4 Public Administrators

The Public Administrators discussion group also took place on April 12, 2005, via teleconference call. This group typically consisted of State public administrators who were key decision makers on public transit services offered throughout their respective States. Individuals from the following organizations participated in the discussions:

  • Connecticut Department of Transportation.
  • Mid-America Regional Council, Kansas City, MO.
  • New Mexico Client Referral, Ridership and Financial Tracking (CRRAFT) Transit Management System.
  • North Carolina Department of Transportation
  • Oregon Department of Transportation
  • Texas Department of Transportation
  • Washington Department of Transportation

The highest priority of this discussion group was the need for information sharing between organizations and jurisdictions. This concept ranged from peer-to-peer opportunities for the public administrators to cross-jurisdictional planning and service provision.

Also repeated throughout the discussion were themes focused on:

  • Flexible, demand-responsive transportation.
  • Necessity of political support to implement a system.
  • Simplification of priorities.
  • Standardization of rules, funding.
  • Standardization of components and system equipment (such as software).

4.3.5 Private Industry

The Private Industry discussion group took place on May 12, 2005, via teleconference call. This group typically consisted of private industry vendors who provide software solutions for human service transportation providers and operators. Individuals from the following organizations participated in the discussions:

  • CH Mack, Inc.
  • LogistiCare.
  • Mobilitat.
  • Route Match.
  • Stratagen.
  • Trapeze Software.

The highest priority of this discussion group was the need to define core data elements and sources, which would lead to an eventual open database and standardization. It was also stated that goals should be realistic and integration should be modular in nature and not necessarily based on a centralized system. The group also suggested that two demonstrations might be needed: one in a large metropolitan area and another in a rural area.

Also repeated throughout the discussion were the themes focused on:

  • Coordination with health and human service software vendors/providers (e.g., ACS, EDL, which are used in Medicaid data management).
  • Inter-jurisdiction coordination is essential, especially in rural areas.
  • The need for functional data requirements, which would lead to technical specifications.

4.4 Overall Summary (Consumers, Community Transportation/Non-Profit Agencies, Public Transit Agencies, and Public Administrators)

Table 4-1 summarizes the themes that emerged from the first four discussion groups. The consensus expressed was that if 50 percent of the groups raised a particular theme, then it was worth noting. Summaries of the individual discussion groups are included in Appendix A.

Table 4-1. Discussion Themes Summary from First Four Discussion Groups
Theme % of Groups Raising the Particular Theme
50% 75% 100%
Feedback on Research Findings
  • The "human factor" is one of the most significant barriers.
empty cell empty cell One-hundred percent of groups raise this particular theme
  • Language is a barrier in many communities.
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
  • Objective measures and accountability measures are needed for the goal.
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
  • Training in the use of technology is important (for operators and consumers).
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
  • Many low-income, rural consumers and those with disabilities lack access to computers, Internet, or even a phone (particularly cellular phones).
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
  • Technology can be an important tool to help address accessibility barriers.
empty cell Seventy-five percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell
  • Technology can also assist with service expansion.
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
Components of the "Ideal System"
  • Equipment, including technology, is updated, maintained, and well matched for its use.
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
  • Funding and resources are integrated.
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
  • Multiple modes are accessible via a single point.
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
  • Technology is available so that people know how to find and access services.
empty cell Seventy-five percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell
  • Well-trained "human" assistance is available throughout the system and at all access points.
empty cell empty cell One-hundred percent of groups raise this particular theme
  • Smart card technology is used for payment so that payer is invisible.
empty cell Seventy-five percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell
  • Customers are matched to services through assessment and appropriate referral (individual transportation planning).
empty cell Seventy-five percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell
  • All modes of transportation have an accessible environment.
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
  • There is strong leadership among decision/policy makers for the system.
empty cell Seventy-five percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell
  • Citizens understand, value, and provide resources for the system.
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
Barriers to an "Ideal System"
  • Lack of sufficient resources.
empty cell Seventy-five percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell
  • Regulations and red tape prevent coordination of eligibility, planning, and services.
empty cell Seventy-five percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell
  • Funding is uncoordinated and inefficient.
empty cell Seventy-five percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell
  • Institutional inertia of existing organizations, agencies, and interest groups (including structure and culture).
empty cell empty cell One-hundred percent of groups raise this particular theme
  • State of existing technology is inadequate for broad, coordinated use.
empty cell Seventy-five percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell
  • Organizations lack expertise or capacity to use technology.
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
  • Lack of leadership and vision (including lack of political support).
empty cell Seventy-five percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell
Benefits/Opportunities of an "Ideal System"
  • Increased participation in community life and activities.
empty cell Seventy-five percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell
  • Increased integration of people with disabilities in the community.
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
  • More choice of service.
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
  • System is less fragmented.
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
  • Improved accessibility.
empty cell empty cell One-hundred percent of groups raise this particular theme
  • All citizens are able to use public transportation, thereby maximizing mobility.
empty cell Seventy-five percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell
  • Services are more efficient and less duplicative.
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
  • Public resources are conserved and maximized.
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
  • Increased level of customer service.
Fifty percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell empty cell
Technical Assistance Needs
  • Clearinghouse or help-desk.
empty cell empty cell One-hundred percent of groups raise this particular theme
  • Marketing and public education.
empty cell Seventy-five percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell
  • High-level leadership to communicate the vision and articulate direction.
empty cell empty cell One-hundred percent of groups raise this particular theme
  • Pilot testing of integrated technology (IT) applications.
empty cell Seventy-five percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell
  • Coordination of rules and funding regulations.
empty cell Seventy-five percent of groups raise this particular theme empty cell

4.5 Discussion Group Priorities and Overarching Themes (Consumers, Community Transportation/Non-Profit Agencies, Public Transit Agencies, and Public Administrators)

Throughout the discussion groups, priorities and themes were mentioned over and over again. A full 75 percent of the group participants reiterated the need for strong leadership "from the top," including one ore more champions who would provide vision and direction. Also regularly cited was that the "human factor" would make the difference as to whether or not technology would work for the customer. It was also noted that the understanding that current consumers, operators, funders, and advocates are entrenched in their existing systems such that it would take enormous amount of cooperation and coordination to consolidate systems. Even with this awareness, the importance of integrating multiple systems into a centralized system was a major priority.

Additionally, it is important to note that at least 50 percent of the discussion group participants expressed that the culture of current agencies (State and Federal) must change, and up front, thoughtful, and standardized planning is needed for a coordinated system to work.

A synthesis of these findings and of the findings and analysis presented in previous sections is presented in Section 5.

Footnotes
  • A second discussion group was conducted via teleconference call on April 11, 2005. This group included representatives from Easter Seals Project ACTION and the National Organization on Disability.

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