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“A strong America depends on citizens who are productive and who actively participate in the life of their communities.” – George W. Bush, Executive Order on Human Service Transportation, 2/24/04
Today in this country we embrace the participation of people with disabilities within their communities, and see its beneficial impact on everyone’s quality of life. Critical to that participation are transportation services. While over 24 million individuals with disabilities in the U.S. use public transportation (The Arc, 2002), for many it is unavailable or inaccessible. The Arc/AAMR position statement describes the issue this way:
Our constituents lack sufficient access to mass transit, paratransit, trains, ferries, airplanes, their own vehicles, and other modes of public transit to perform everyday activities. Even where accessible public transportation exists, adults with disabilities consider transportation inadequate. (The Arc, 2002)
At Rise, Incorporated, a nonprofit provider of employment, community integration, and housing services for people with disabilities and economic barriers, we address accessible transportation on a daily basis. Services at Rise, which is based in suburban Minneapolis, Minnesota, have grown significantly in the past decade. In 2004, we provided 3,523 people with employment, community participation, and housing services, a 108% increase from 10 years ago. In that same time period, the provision of transportation services by Rise has increased proportionately. While that may seem appropriate, it is also a disappointing statement about the continuing limited access to public transportation for people with disabilities.
For most people we serve, Rise is able to provide training and support in using public transportation resources if they are unable to drive or obtain a car. Our staff members provide information and coaching support in learning to use mass transit and paratransit systems. We also advocate for consumers who have difficulty in arranging for rides or obtaining the necessary resources to pay for their transportation; for instance, a constant challenge for users of public paratransit systems is waiting lists for routine ride scheduling and/or long waits or varying pick-up and drop-off times. These can create problems for people going to work or appointments. These systems’ limited hours of operation can also create difficulty for people with disabilities who are employed or who are interested in accessing the community at times when the service doesn’t operate. In our advocacy role we work with potential employers to arrange work hours that will fit with available transportation, problem-solve routines and times for community access that fit with available transportation, and work to find alternative means of transportation when public transportation is not going to be an option.
Another transportation support Rise staff help arrange is ride-sharing. With this option, Rise staff negotiate ride-sharing with a co-worker at the business where the person with a disability works. Often the sharing of fueling money, or mileage reimbursement, can offer an incentive for the co-worker to provide a ride. This can be a cost-effective option that may also facilitate socialization and friendships. There are, however, drawbacks. Problems arise when, for instance, the driving co-worker takes days off due to illness or plans a vacation. Schedule changes, infrequent needs for flexible scheduling, and car problems also pose potential challenges. But, with a well-thought-out plan, and contingencies for back-up, ride-sharing can be an excellent means of getting to work.
Another shared-ride strategy of Rise is using organization-owned and maintained vehicles to provide transportation services to approximately 560 people daily, a little over 30% of the total people we serve on a daily basis. Rise maintains a complex system of routes throughout the metropolitan area, with vans covering a 60-mile area each day, safely transporting the people we serve to more than 50 companies where they are employed, or to eight Rise-operated locations for other supportive services. Often the service design requires several rides throughout the day as people access the community for integration activities, work or a combination of both. These trips total more than 1.6 million miles logged by Rise transportation services each year.
Riding in a shared-ride transportation system often requires patience on the part of the people we serve. It is impossible to provide individualized rides without incurring exorbitant expense. People who drive can easily make a 10-mile ride in 15 minutes or less; but when you are making 10 or 12 stops to pick up other passengers, the same distance ride can take one hour or longer. It is a powerful statement of the value of a job or service that a person is willing to spend two hours per day in transit.
The complexities of routing for Rise vans are enormous. Rise currently has a fleet of 62 vehicles, 15 of which are equipped with wheelchair lifts. We use an electronic system to manage routes that often change daily as new persons are referred for services, jobs change, people move or go to respite care, someone’s personal transportation breaks down, or any number of other variables. Managing the route changes is a challenge.
Routing is also affected by the complexities of residential and family supports. Many people we serve live in residences that have staffing limited to certain hours. Our routing needs to take those hours into consideration to assure that adequate staffing is in place at home when the person we serve arrives back home. In addition, some people live with their families and will need a family member to be home for support when they arrive. Sometimes the jigsaw puzzle of scheduling around all the variables is very difficult to do.
The need for transportation service coordination and collaboration within any given community seems obvious. With so many community programs providing transportation, there must be ways to work together effectively and efficiently. A federal initiative, United We Ride, is working to facilitate human services programs joining together to analyze community needs and the effectiveness and efficiency of current services, as well as identify means of coordinating services. Rise recently participated in just such an analysis. Beginning in 2002 and lasting until 2004, Rise administered a grant through the Greater Twin Cities United Way that supported a process for looking at transportation services within one of the metropolitan area counties and identifying means of coordination and collaboration of services within it. One outcome of the project was the development of shared transportation procedures for programs serving people with disabilities within the county. By having similar procedures and policies, the groundwork was laid for the sharing of rides among providers to increase the efficiency of services to transportation users. Although the development of shared rides has been less fruitful than we had anticipated, each participating organization developed an increased understanding of the management of transportation services within our community. We also learned that issues such as liability, regulation, consumer characteristics, and support needs create barriers to resource sharing.
Another initiative the Greater Twin Cities United Way is currently under-taking is studying transportation and potential collaboration throughout the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. An analysis of provider capacities including fleet size and configuration, geographic areas served, service population, and other factors was completed with the overall goal of identification of potential shared resources and cost-saving measures. Rise provided them with information regarding our transportation services and received information on ways to improve efficiency, such as participating in a fueling discount that has been negotiated for United Way agencies.
Rise anticipates a continued need to advocate for public policy and resources to expand access to transportation services for people with disabilities. We will continue to partner with local and national advocacy organizations leading the way for transportation system changes. We are continually looking at ways to increase the quality and cost-effectiveness of the transportation services we provide. We hope to implement even more high-tech routing systems in the future using GPS navigating techniques, and improved computer software. Another area we are exploring is development of additional transportation services that would increase the overall resource-base for the transportation services we offer. One thing that is certain is that access to transportation will continue to play a key role for those we serve in relation to being included and living full lives in their communities.
The Arc. (Nov 9, 2002). The Arc/AAMR position statement on transportation. Retrieved 7/28/05 from http://www.thearc.org/posits/transportationpos.htm.
Lynn Noren is Chief Operating Officer with Rise, Inc., Spring Lake Park, Minnesota. She may be reached at 763/783-2814 or LNoren@rise.org.
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Retrieved from the Web site of the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota (http://ici.umn.edu). Citation: Gaylord, V., Abeson, A., Bosk, E., Timmons, J., & Lazarus, S. (Eds.). (2005). Impact: Feature Issue on Meeting Transportation Needs of Youth and Adults with Developmental Disabilities 18(3). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration. Available at http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/183/default.html.
The PDF version of this Impact, with photos and graphics, is also online at http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/183/183.pdf.
The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity employer and educator.