Research Archive

An Overview of Human Service Transportation Coordination Regional Workshops

Background

For several decades, many federal programs have funded transportation services for older adults, persons with disabilities, and low-income individuals. Yet, more could be done to coordinate these services and to introduce Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and other Information Technologies (IT) to better plan and operate public transportation services in rural, suburban, and urban areas.

In November 2000, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Joint Program Office (JPO) issued a task order to the SAIC team to provide support to USDOT’s work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The task order called for the team to hold meetings, conduct research, and increase awareness and understanding within these agencies of the capabilities and benefits offered by technology and how IT/ITS strategies might be applied to enhance transportation services, particularly in rural areas. It was decided that Regional Coordination Workshops would provide the best venue for highlighting what ITS/IT strategies could offer.

The first set of workshops – conducted between March 20 and September 11, 2003 included four Federal Transit Administration (FTA) regions: Region I, Region III, Region VI, and Region X. The Phase One Workshops were hosted by the FTA regional administrators and HHS regional directors. They included presentations about three federal initiatives and their relationship to coordinated transportation services for (1) older adults, (2) low income individuals and those transitioning from welfare to work, and (3) persons eligible for Medicaid-funded medical trips. The workshops included presentation of best practices related to ITS/IT strategies, and provided time for state roundtable meetings, during which states could work on their own State Action Plan to further transportation coordination initiatives.

During the summer of 2003, the JPO agreed to delay presentation of the remaining Regional Coordination Workshops pending the announcement of a new FTA initiative: United We Ride: Building the Fully Coordinated Human Service Transportation System , which was unveiled in the Fall of 2003. The United We Ride initiative includes five elements: (1) a Framework for Action self-assessment tool, (2) State Leadership Awards, (3) National Leadership Forum on Human Service Transportation Coordination, (4) state coordination grants, and (5) a technical assistance program known as “Help Along the Way.”

Additionally, on February 24, 2004, President George W. Bush signed an Executive Order on Human Service Transportation Coordination. The Executive Order establishes the Interagency Transportation Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (CCAM) within the USDOT. Membership includes: (1) the Secretaries of Transportation, Health and Human Services, Education, Labor, Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and Interior; the Attorney General; and the Commissioner of Social Security. The purpose of the CCAM is to promote interagency cooperation and to establish appropriate mechanisms to minimize duplication and overlap of Federal programs and services so that transportation-disadvantaged persons have access to more transportation services. The CCAM was given one year to produce a report to the President that addressed a variety of coordination issues including a detailed identification of laws, regulations, and other factors that have promoted as well as hindered coordination efforts at the federal, state, Tribal, and local levels. The CCAM also was asked to provide recommendations to simplify and coordinate applicable substantive, procedural, and administrative requirements that would improve coordination. The activities of the CCAM and United We Ride initiative may be found at www.unitedweride.gov.

The Regional Coordination Workshops resumed in the Fall of 2004. Six workshops were presented between October 14 and December 10, 2004 (FTA Region II, FTA Region IV, FTA Region V, FTA Region VII, FTA Region VIII, and FTA Region IX).

The Phase Two Workshops were updated to reflect the United We Ride coordination initiative. The workshops benefited from the addition of facilitated in-depth discussions about coordination strategies that work, based on examples drawn from the states and local agencies. The workshops included information about various strategies – including ITS/IT – to improve the coordination of human services transportation in the state and local program levels. Time was devoted for each state to work on its own State Action Plan or the United We Ride Framework for Action, as needed.

Issues and Themes

The focus of the two sets of workshops differed to some degree due in part to their timing. The Phase One Workshops, conducted in 2003, were in advance of the United We Ride effort and reflected more of a focus on coordination in general and technology solutions that could be used to enhance coordination. A shift in focus somewhat away from technology solutions to a bigger focus on coordination and the United We Ride effort are evident in the Phase Two Workshops.

Coordination

While each state had its own specific concerns relating to the coordination of human services transportation, there were a number of common issues that surfaced in many state discussions:

  • The perceived need to have some type of mandated coordination at the state level (and possibly federal level), whether by executive order or legislative action.
    • However, in some home-rule states it was noted that governors may not be willing or able to effectively mandate coordination at the local level.
  • The importance of having all of the right people engaged in the coordination effort.
    • Coined by Connecticut as the need to have a “Bunch of the Right People Sitting Around the Table” or “BORPSAT.” It is evident that for coordination to succeed, the correct agencies and individuals must be involved in the planning, funding, operating, and evaluation phases for coordinated human transportation services to succeed. It also takes individual champions with a vision to advance the concept.
    • Many states expressed the need for formal coalition building to be more inclusion, particularly related to Tribal issues and being sure that all state agencies that should be included are part of the coordination discussion – not just transportation and health/human services individuals.
    • It was noted that for various reasons, not all of the right people may have been present at the workshops. In some cases agencies were not represented because of travel restrictions. In other cases there was a lack of interest or possibly knowledge about the workshops.
    • In particular, there was a desire to include representatives from DOL and those who represent low income individuals.
  • While the focus of coordination efforts often rests on the need to provide service for persons who are transportation disadvantaged (i.e., people with low incomes, older adults, people with disabilities, and others without access to transportation), many states included accessibility and mobility for all persons in their vision statements for the future.
    • In many states there was a desire to ensure that public transportation is viewed as a viable option to driving for those who wish to use it or who have to use it.
    • It also was recognized that providing coordinated, accessible public transportation (i.e., fixed route bus and rail) could help to ease the demand for more costly paratransit services.
  • There is a need to make more resources and more flexible funding available both at the federal and state levels.
    • It was noted that some states contribute nothing or very little to public transportation or human services transportation, leaving the burden to local governments and private funding sources.
    • Quite simply, states felt that additional funds were needed to meet the demand for service and that the demand would only grow as Baby Boomers age.
    • In some regions, Tribal funding also plays a key role in transportation assistance and there is a need to work more closely with the states to leverage resources.
  • There are problems with data availability and reliability.
    • A number of states noted that they lacked basic data that would help them to plan and implement human services transportation. The reasons cited included reporting deficiencies, lack of uniform cost-allocation across programs, and turfism (stove piping) among various agencies.
    • Other issues affecting data included the use of different terminology and/or data collection methods (e.g., public transportation operators typically focus on one-way trips while human service program typical focus on trips taken by individuals for specific programs.
  • The need to define and showcase success stories.
    • A common misconception about coordination is that the overall cost will decline because services have been coordinated. In reality, the overall cost may remain the same; however, the amount of service as well as the quality of service should increase with well executed coordination efforts.
    • An ongoing issue for coordination proponents is providing good examples of sustainable coordination efforts and documenting the before and after effects of coordination.
  • A need to educate stakeholders about coordination options and benefits.
    • It was noted that there is no one perfect model of coordination that will work in all instances. It must be tailored to local needs and concerns.
    • Coordination does not mean consolidation. There are many forms of coordination from informal agreements to fully integrated or consolidated systems.
    • There was general agreement about the need to create some form of one-stop information center so that consumers would know what transportation resources are available in a particular community.

Much progress has been made, yet much remains to be done even in states with a long history of coordination. The United We Ride initiative, and the state and community Framework for Action materials appear to be useful coordination tools.

Technology

The original focus of the workshops was to highlight how ITS/IT could be used as tools to enhance human service transportation coordination efforts. Discussions about technology were most prominent during the Phase One Workshops, whereas the emphasis on United We Ride and related coordination efforts were more prevalent during the second set of workshops.

An important aspect of the workshops is how the information provided about ITS and IT can be used to help develop a related federal initiative called “Mobility Services for All Americans” (MSAA). The goal of MSAA is to increase mobility and accessibility for the transportation disadvantaged and the general public, and achieve more efficient use of federal transportation funding resources through technology integration and service coordination.

At the workshops, the technology discussions centered on two major themes: (1) how technology can be used to improve recordkeeping and data collection/reporting efforts and (2) how technology can be used to enhance coordination and improve transportation operations. An overriding concern for both themes was the cost to acquire, implement, and use technology.

Data Collection and Reporting

One area of particular interest that came up in almost every region was how to collect, use, and disseminate information. In particular, information that could be useful for planning purposes, information dissemination, and billing purposes.

  • Planning. Several technologies were identified during the workshops that could assist with planning transportation services including:
    • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and mapping technologies, which could be used to identify trip origins and destinations, as well as areas not being well served. These analyses could be based on demographic/census information, passenger use data, and other programmatic information. These techniques are commonly employed by metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), regional planning councils (RPCs), and others to identify travel patterns and areas with unmet need. A number of JARC program participants have used GIS to map low income individuals and to identify transportation, day care, and employment site information.
    • Electronic databases including all sorts of simple or complex databases that track information about customer use. There was an interest expressed in developing shared databases among programs (e.g., Medicaid eligible customers and ADA paratransit eligible customers) so that resources might be better coordinated. It was generally agreed that the issue that get in the way are related to confidentiality and/or stove-piping of programs, not the actual technology itself, which is available.
  • Information dissemination. At every workshop, at least one state expressed the desire to develop a one-stop center for information about transportation resources. In some cases the idea was expanded to become a “mobility manager,” which would work with customers to develop personal trip itineraries. Many ideas were suggested including:
    • On-line databases needed to collect, manage, and disseminate information. These Internet-based information sources should include accessible formats so that they may be used by persons with disabilities. Although concerns were expressed about whether individuals in rural areas have access to the Internet, there often are computer terminals in local libraries that may be used.
    • Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems also were suggested that would allow a person to use their telephone touchpad to access information using a numeric menu.
    • Telephone call centers, such as the one in King County ( Seattle) also were mentioned where a database has been built to include information about transportation options in the area. Funded in part by the transit department, the call center is staff by a social service program for senior citizens. A customer can call and receive assistance from a live customer service representative.
  • Electronic databases, invoicing, and billing. After several decades of attempting to coordinate services, participants still comment on problems of accountability and billing. Among the suggested (and already used technologies) are:
    • Smart Cards can be programmed to collect, store, and provide information about an individual customer. Smart Cards could be used to cover a variety of programs – such as attendance at a senior center program as well as use of transportation. This information can also be downloaded from card readers and used for billing purposes. It also was noted that Smart Cards can assist customers who may have subsidized trips in that no one needs to know who is paying for the trip, whether it’s the individual, a social service program or Medicaid, for example.
    • On-line transactions also can facilitate coordination as shown by the benefits claim filing project in North Dakota, which was highlighted at the Denver workshop. Social Security recipients can now file on-line for benefits, which has resulted in quicker returns and faster processing, using fewer resources.
    • The Client Referral, Ridership, and Financial Tracking (CRRAFT) program in New Mexico (and highlighted during the Region VI workshop in Dallas) is a great example of what an electronic database can contribute to the coordination of transportation services.

Improving Operations

Technology has much to offer to assist with coordination efforts particularly for service delivery in multiple jurisdictions or with multiple funding sources. Transportation operators are adopting ITS strategies and have well-documented results. Several examples that were highlighted at the workshops include:

  • Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority – Massachusetts
  • Capital Area Rural Transportation System - Austin, Texas
  • Ottumwa Transit Authority - Ottumwa, Iowa
  • Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) – Suburban Detroit
  • Sunshine Bus – St. Augustine, Florida
  • Wheel of Wellness – Philadelphia

In addition to the database and GIS technologies described above, the states were interested in exploring the use of the following technologies as they apply to brokerage and other forms of coordinated transportation services:

  • Automatic vehicle location (AVL), which can be used to track vehicle location for real-time information related to schedule adherence, as well as reviewing stored data for resolution of past service issues.
  • Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs), which capture on-board information pertaining to trips, which drivers record by depressing buttons to indicate arrivals, departures, and so on. The MDTs also can be used to transmit pick-up and drop-off information in real-time. Some systems, such as Spokane Transit, no longer have paper manifests on paratransit vehicles; all transactions occur via MDT transmission.
  • Scheduling and dispatching software has improved over the years, making it possible to manage eligibility for certain trips by funding source or other means, automatic call-backs to customers if a schedule changes, scheduling assistance for trip assignments, and dispatch assistance. Even less expensive program are now able to capture many of these features and be integrated into AVL/MDT based operations.
  • Interactive Voice Response is gaining popularity and is used to schedule, confirm, and cancel trips. One issue with IVR is that persons who use TTY devices are unable to use this technology so another option must be offered.
  • Internet based scheduling a relatively new ITS application is Internet base scheduling capability where a customer can schedule, confirm, and cancel their own trips without ever talking to the transportation provider.

Summary

Many of the coordination issues cited by various workshop participants (e.g., need for agencies to share information or need to coordinate service provision) can be facilitated through the use of technology. While urban areas may appear to employ more technology solutions, rural areas also have benefited from technology as shown by the CRRAFT example and others cited during the workshops and through the MSAA project. It also was noted that ITS needs to support universal access and design to support physical use of the system as well as the information portals – e.g., accessible web sites.

While on-line Internet access offers many benefits for those who can use it, it was noted that access to the Internet may be a barrier among certain populations (e.g., low income, older adults, and rural residents). Finally, several state commented on the importance of the human factor in technology. Technology is a good thing, but it is implemented by people. People – including drivers and other personnel – need to be knowledgeable in its use, about the system, and the technologies need to be maintained properly.

Future Priorities

The future for coordination of human services transportation has never looked more promising.

As agencies and individuals begin to better understand coordination and what it can accomplish, more realistic goals and expectations will be realized. The workshops raised a lot of questions about coordination and the use of technology, some of which can be used to frame future research and demonstration efforts as coordination evolves into the future.

New capabilities and opportunities are being created in both the transportation and health and human services communities through the use of emerging technologies and innovative services. Pioneering public transportation agencies are using ITS to provide centralized coordination of community transportation providers, one stop shopping, and service brokering through integrated automatic vehicle location systems, advanced communications, and universal benefit cards. Others are providing on-vehicle audio annunciation, accessible traveler information, and flexible routing to assist passengers with disabilities in using conventional transit services. In the rehabilitation community, innovative Assistive Technologies such as personal GPS and personal display assistants using mobile communications to provide real-time assistance to those with cognitive disabilities, accessible pedestrian signals, and “talking” bus stops and signs are also being developed. Through the MSAA initiative, the USDOT will demonstrate how technology can be used to help facilitate coordination between transportation and human services providers, and how it can improve accessibility and mobility for all Americans.

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