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STRATEGIES TO INCREASE COORDINATION OF TRANSPORTATION SERVICES FOR THE TRANSPORTATION DISADVANTAGED SUMMARY During the past 20 years, significant efforts have been made to increase coordination among publicly funded transportation services for people who can be described as trans- portation disadvantaged. Despite encouragement at federal and state levels and many local successes, there are still many opportunities to improve the local and regional coor- dination of transportation services for the transportation disadvantaged. Duplication of services or administration, insufficient funding, unmet trip demand, numerous regula- tory constraints, lack of interagency coordination, and poor service quality still exist. Moreover, the rapid growth and suburbanization that has taken place in many commu- nities has made it more costly and difficult to provide publicly funded transportation access to many destinations, at a time when public resources at many levels are con- strained. These conditions make the coordination of transportation services for the trans- portation disadvantaged an even more desirable goal than ever. This Report, or Resource Guide, was developed as part of Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Project H-30, Strategies to Increase Coordination of Trans- portation Services for the Transportation Disadvantaged. The project's goal was to identify strategies for initiating or improving coordination of publicly funded trans- portation services for transportation-disadvantaged individuals--older adults, people with disabilities, human services agency clients, and others--that could be imple- mented on the regional or local level. Recognizing that transportation coordination has been the subject of extensive previous work, the identification of innovative strategies and approaches was an important objective. The Resource Guide is intended for public and private transportation and human ser- vices organizations that fund, operate, purchase, or use transportation services for the transportation disadvantaged and are interested in improving coordination with other providers. Based on case studies of public and private organizations that have recently undertaken coordination activities, the Resource Guide describes current trends in the coordination of transportation services for the transportation disadvantaged and iden- tifies several ongoing challenges that coordination partners have faced. Other topics covered in the Resource Guide include the following:
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2 · Transportation service delivery options · Planning and decision-making processes associated with transportation and human services funding programs · Opportunities for political involvement and tools for transportation advocacy · Funding sources and their requirements · Use of technology to coordinate the operation of transportation services Readers will also learn how to identify potential sources of funding and inventory local transportation providers. Throughout the Resource Guide, effective coordination strategies and approaches are drawn from the case studies and the experiences of other organizations that have planned and implemented coordination initiatives. An index to existing case studies on the topic of transportation coordination, organized by topic, is included as well. CURRENT COORDINATION TRENDS A total of 22 full and minicase studies were conducted to take a close look at recent examples of successful coordination strategies and innovative practices. The case stud- ies illustrate a number of different types of coordination strategies, ranging from state- level efforts and implementation at the local or regional level of federal or state programs to ways of coordinating the planning, funding, or delivery of this type of transportation service. While each of the case study subjects has its unique features and illustrates a particular coordination issue or approach, some underlying themes or trends emerged. Coalition-Building Building a coalition organized around transportation issues is an effective way to achieve a number of goals: pursuing funding opportunities, increasing public awareness of transportation issues and support for solutions, and influencing state/federal actions. The concept of building transportation coalitions has become more prominent in recent years, so one set of minicase studies focused on this topic in relation to efforts to coordinate transportation services for the transportation disadvantaged. However, the theme arose repeatedly throughout other case studies, as it became clear that other case study subjects had established coalitions as part of a larger coordination strategy. Moreover, the success of those strategies was often due at least in part to the coalition's endeavors. The experiences of the case study subjects indicate a trend toward looking beyond the transportation providers and human services agencies that are the typical partners in a coordination effort and enlisting the support of other stakeholders--businesses, local elected officials, faith-based organizations, educational institutions, and others. In some cases, a coalition has been used to plan or manage a coordination effort. In other cases, a coalition has been established for a broader purpose. Other coalitions were established to pursue job access funding or respond to welfare reform, but have since broadened their focus. The experiences of the case study sites suggest the following lessons for coalition- building efforts: 1. A broad-based coalition has the highest chance of achieving its goals. In order to attract a wide range of participants, the transportation services advocated by the coalition should be available to as many rider groups as possible.
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3 2. Funding or sponsorship are critical coalition-building tools. Early on, partners should identify a means of underwriting expenses such as meeting space, trans- portation, administrative tasks and items, and information dissemination. 3. A key element is the existence or development of trust among coalition partici- pants and with potential partners. Building trust involves investing time, devel- oping an effective means of communication, and listening to the needs and con- cerns of partners with an open mind, so that a balance between special interests and group goals can be attained. 4. The support of state and local elected officials and representatives of federal agencies is also extremely helpful. Adequate research and data are needed in order to enlist the cooperation and assistance of such individuals. Decision makers have many competing demands for their limited time. 5. Building trust, enlisting additional coalition participants, gathering data, and plan- ning actions all require an investment of time, but are critical elements of a fruit- ful coalition. Leadership Strong leadership--at both the local/regional and state levels--is a key to the suc- cess of a transportation coordination initiative. The success of coordination efforts continues to be linked to the involvement of a local champion, at least in the initial stages of development and implementation. The vision, dedication, perseverance, and hard work of such an individual (or individuals) were noted in many case study interviews as invaluable contributions to the imple- mentation and success of a coordination strategy. Leadership at the state level was also identified by a number of case study sites as a crucial factor. State leadership may take several forms: · Encouragement and support · A state-level coordination initiative · Policy or procedural changes to make coordination more feasible · Funding to implement or operate coordinated services Lead Agencies Successful coordination initiatives are led by all types of entities--transit providers, state or local-level human services agencies, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), state DOTs, and private nonprofit organizations. The experiences of a number of the case study sites suggest that coordination efforts do not need to be initiated by transit providers. In fact, in some cases, efforts are more successful when an entity other than the local transit agency takes the lead role. With the transit agency as an equal partner to other participants, a coalition can more easily broaden both its agenda and support for its efforts among decision makers. When a human services agency or planning organization leads a coordination effort, the mistrust that participants may have of the transit provider--based on fears that it will encroach on other agency functions besides transportation, promote its own agenda, or transfer responsibility for providing transportation services to other entities--can be neutralized. Finally, coordination partners may be more willing to discuss transporta- tion needs if by doing so they do not appear to be criticizing existing services.
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4 Even when the local transit agency is the administrator or manager of a coordination program, the creation of an advisory group headed by another entity can provide sim- ilar benefits of impartiality, openness, and inclusion. Federal Programs as Catalysts for Coordination Federal mandates or programs can be leveraged to help build transportation infra- structure and expand customer bases. Many recent successful coordination strategies were implemented in order to address the transportation needs of individuals making the transition from welfare to work. The degree of coordination that has been achieved is due in large part to the joint efforts of the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Department of Labor (DOL), and DOT to make it possible for states and communities to respond to the trans- portation challenges of welfare reform. These efforts have included joint guidance from all three agencies on the coordinated use of funding sources and the FTA's requirement for coordinated planning and funding of services to be supported by its Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) grant program. The case studies provided several examples of areas in which coordinated services that began as a means to provide access to jobs were expanded to become more com- prehensive systems. In one particular example, a coalition of human services agencies used pilot project funding from the state's welfare reform program and a JARC grant to implement a countywide demand-responsive service for transitioning welfare recip- ients. The service became so successful that a local millage, or additional dollar per $1,000 of taxable property value, was passed several years later to expand the service and open it to the general public. Similarly, efforts in another area to find a cost-effective means of meeting the require- ments of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for complementary paratransit ser- vice led to the development of programs to help community-based agencies provide ser- vice for ADA-eligible individuals. As a result, transportation options were created for older adults and people with disabilities, as well as ADA-eligible individuals. State-Level Coordination Initiatives Formal state programs that require or encourage local organizations to coordinate contribute greatly to coordination successes, especially when incentive funding is an element of the program. Experience has shown that coordination efforts have the greatest chance of success when supported by a formal coordination policy or program at the state level, with or without a legislative mandate. Incentive funding at the state level further increases the chances of successful implementation of coordination efforts. Several case study sites illustrate the effectiveness of state-level guidance and leadership. The Importance of Planning Transportation planning typically encompasses a range of activities, including the assessment of mobility needs, design of appropriate services or strategies, identification of resources, estimation of expected benefits and costs, development of implementation plans and schedules, and evaluation of programs and services. The experiences of the case study subjects highlight several planning issues of which organizations considering a coordination initiative should be aware.
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5 1. Transportation and human services agencies need to become involved in the various planning processes that are used to make transportation decisions. It is not unusual for human services agencies, advocates, and other organiza- tions that have an interest in transportation but are not primarily transportation providers to have little input into transportation planning processes and planning decisions. Similarly, transportation providers are not always involved in human services decisions regarding transportation or related issues such as the location of programs or facilities. One reason that planning efforts continue to proceed in parallel is that the planning processes that recipients of federal transit funding are required to follow are often unfamiliar to human services agencies, while the plan- ning requirements associated with health and human services programs are diverse and usually unfamiliar to transportation providers. The case studies, however, illustrate the value of joint transportation planning to a successful coordination effort. The majority of the case study subjects par- ticipate in joint planning activities with their partner organizations or other stake- holders. In some instances, coordination partners are involved in the planning process required at the federal level for projects that utilize funds from federal transportation agencies. These and other coordination initiatives grew out of job access planning efforts. In other instances, the planning process in which coordi- nation partners participate is led by a human services agency. 2. Adequate planning is a necessary foundation for a successful coordination initiative. A number of case study organizations recommended a solid planning effort as one of the first steps in a coordination initiative. Data collection and outreach to transportation-disadvantaged groups, advocates, and stakeholders are necessary in order to identify and document mobility needs. A clear definition of needs can help to ensure that the solutions that are developed are effective. In addition, assem- bling data to document needs and make the case for suggested actions must pre- cede attempts to raise awareness of transportation issues among decision makers. If the coordination initiative involves the deployment of a technology system, early research and planning to identify the steps necessary for implementation are especially important. Without such preparation, it can be difficult to implement a project effectively within the desired timeframe. 3. Program evaluation is essential. Collecting data from the beginning of a coordination effort in order to document success and measure accomplishments is essential. Essential elements and evalu- ation criteria should be identified at the start, and reporting processes should be designed to be as simple as possible. Coordination at the Regional Level Coordination is a key strategy for addressing needs for interregional service and pro- viding that service efficiently. As residential and commercial development continues to sprawl and the trend toward the provision of services on a regional basis persists, destinations for many transportation- disadvantaged individuals may lie beyond county, state, or transit service area bound- aries. For example, regional medical centers may draw patients from multicounty regions. Similarly, major employment centers are no longer located exclusively in downtown areas of major cities, but may be dispersed throughout suburban or rural areas. In order to access health care or travel to work, individuals may need to identify available service
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6 options, evaluate schedule and price information, and, assuming that options are avail- able from origin to destination, arrange trips with multiple providers. Centralizing services through one provider can fill regional service gaps and stream- line the processes of identifying options and planning trips for customers. An alternate approach is coordination among multiple transportation operators in a region. Nontraditional Funding Sources Nontraditional funding sources exist, and should be explored. In addition to the major grant programs administered by transportation and human services agencies at the federal and state levels, public and private foundations and other nontraditional funding sources can be resources for local organizations that are planning or implementing coordination activities. Use of Technology Technology can be used to coordinate operations, manage information, and enhance customer service. The use of technology systems in transit and paratransit services is the focus of other studies and research projects, and it was not the intent of this study to duplicate that work. However, several minicase studies were conducted to highlight ways in which technology can be used to increase or support coordination. The lessons learned at these sites relate directly to the introduction of an advanced technology--for instance, sufficient technological resources and ongoing technical sup- port are necessary for a successful implementation. CURRENT COORDINATION CHALLENGES Most of the themes or trends that emerged from the case studies dealt with effective strategies or key ingredients for a successful coordination effort. Two themes, however, spotlight challenges faced by many organizations that have been involved in recent efforts to coordinate transportation services for the transportation disadvantaged. Sustainability Sustaining a coordination effort over the long term--especially after a local champion departs or a primary funding source is no longer available--can be a major challenge. Several of the case study sites encountered such circumstances. Their continued suc- cess is attributed to the broad base of support that was created when the coordination initiative was first established and to the systems' reputations for high-quality service and for customizing transportation services to meet the needs and available funding of agencies and communities. Flexibility can also help to sustain a coordination effort. A coordinated system that has the ability to react to a loss of funding by shifting focus from one client group to another, restructuring its operations as needed, is more likely to remain viable. Another key factor that can contribute to the sustainability of a coordination effort is the existence (or establishment) of a legal or institutional framework for coordina- tion, such as a formal county ordinance, or the creation of an office specifically focused on coordinating transportation.
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7 Building Trust Trust among potential or actual coordination partners and concerns about control over client services or funding continue to be obstacles to coordination. The other major challenge that was mentioned in nearly every case study was the development of trust among coordination partners. The organizations that were successful in developing good relationships with partners cited a number of important factors. Ongoing communication is critical, and this can be accomplished through regular meetings, the development of some mechanism for disseminating information, and workshops or summits on particular topics. Individual meetings with organizations that may have concerns about control over services for their clients or funding, for example, can help to neutralize those fears. While communicat- ing with partners, it is essential to listen to their needs and concerns with an open mind, so that a balance between special interests and group goals can be attained. Developing relationships takes time, often more time than the case study sites anticipated, but it is well worth the investment in terms of the success of the coordination effort. Another factor is identifying all potential stakeholders at the beginning of the process and involving them from the start--they are more likely to be supportive and will also have the chance to contribute ideas or information that can improve the coordination strategy that is adopted. Trust also develops when the lead agency in a coordination effort makes sure that services and programs are tailored to the particular needs of partner organizations or communities. Finally, case study sites mentioned the value of doing adequate research and col- lecting data to share with partners or potential participants to enlist their participation-- to identify transportation needs in the beginning of a coordination effort, for example, or to document coordination successes as they are achieved. CROSS-CUTTING LESSONS Lastly, the case studies offered several lessons for organizations that are interested in the coordination of transportation services for the transportation disadvantaged, no matter what particular strategy they may adopt: · An incremental or phased approach to implementing coordinated services can increase the likelihood that the services will be successful. · Communication among entities considering or engaged in coordination activities is vital. · Time and effort will need to be devoted to developing trust among partners and addressing concerns about control. · The time spent in developing support, resources, and a framework for coordina- tion will pay off in terms of future growth and stability for the effort. Benefits may not appear in the short term.