Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Opportunity for Paratransit Managers: Advanced Practices in Paratransit Services

Photo: Transit Authority of River City
Easter Seals Project ACTION is offering a new advanced course for ADA complementary paratransit managers, Advanced Practices in Paratransit Services. This course complements the Excellence in Service for Paratransit Managers introductory course.
All of ESPA’s training events and products are available to the public free of charge. Currently, ESPA offers six online multi-week courses that include readings, activities, and online and teleconference interaction. The Advanced Practices in Paratransit Services course is moderated by ESPA staff and includes two live Webinars.
A participant in the last session of the Advanced Practices in Paratransit Services online course provided the following feedback.
“It is a good forum, and the first time I have taken an Easter Seals course.  In conversations with other transit agencies, there are very high marks for Easter Seals presentations and I look forward to learning more through the programs.”
Participants in the course complete four learning modules over seven weeks.
1.   The Face of Paratransit
This module covers topics such as websites and social media, effective communication technology, accessibility, and availability of policies and referrals to other agencies.
2.   Policy Development and Amendment
This module offers guidelines for developing and amending policies to address common issues. It also covers hot topics in paratransit policy and setting and using service standards to improve service.
3.   Premium Paratransit Service  
This module includes topics such as public-private partnership information and requirements, cost-benefit framework for public transportation projects, and using premium paratransit to increase the independence of people with disabilities.
4.   Using Your Complaint Process to Improve Service
This module includes topics such as customer monitoring and feedback, principles of mediation and negotiation, evaluating bus operator performance, and using the complaint process to improve service.
The next Advanced Practices in Paratransit starts April 28 and runs through June 13. If you are interested in taking this course please Register before April 23.
Course Calendar
  • Start Date: Monday, April 28
  • Live Webinar #1: Tuesday, May 13
  • Live Webinar #2: Tuesday, May 27
  • End Date: Friday, June 13
For More Information
Contact the course instructor, Kristi McLaughlin, at APPS@easterseals.com or 800-659-6428. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Customer Service Starts with Engaging the Customer!

By Judy Shanley
Through 17 model demonstration grants the Strengthening Inclusive Coordinated Transportation Partnerships to Promote Community Living project is developing, testing and demonstrating ways to empower people with disabilities and older adults to actively engage in designing and implementing coordinated transportation systems. The project will support communities nationwide in adopting sustainable, scalable, and replicable models that include the participation of people with disabilities and older adults in the design and implementation of responsive, coordinated transportation systems.
The heart of the work is engaging people with disabilities and older adults in multiple ways – providing opportunities for their voices, opinions, and perspectives to influence the coordinated transportation systems in their communities. As a result of this input and participation in the planning process, grantees indicated that transportation options and systems were more responsive to the needs of diverse riders and customer service improved. Learn more about the work of these grantees, including engagement strategies that influence customer service.
The Strengthening Inclusive Coordinated Transportation Partnerships to Promote Community Living project is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Community Living to demonstrate the significance that inclusive processes can bring to transportation efforts. Easter Seals, the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA), the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, and Westat are collaborating to implement the project.
Keep your eyes open for webinars on these projects and lessons learned.

Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee
working hard at inclusive coordinated transportation planning


Friday, January 31, 2014

Ask the Expert - Steve Marshall, Safety and Compliance Officer Crawford Area Transportation Authority in Meadville, PA

First Responders in Winter Weather - CATA buses were used as warming shelters for firefighters, residents, and for thawing firefighting equipment during a four-alarm fire in Meadville, PA in
January 2014.

You’re the Safety and Compliance Officer with Crawford Area Transportation Authority.  Please tell us a little about how you started your career in public transportation and what your position entails.
I had spent years as a Fire Dept. training officer and Asst. Fire Chief. Quality training is a huge issue in transit….and these days, transit buses and their drivers are considered part of the first responder corps that is available to come to the rescue when disaster hits, so it was a natural fit.  I was initially hired as a supervisor and then promoted to Safety & Compliance when our Executive Director decided that with the phenomenal growth CATA had experienced, we needed a dedicated compliance person who would focus on safety, training, risk management and compliance with regulations….such as the ADA.
CATA has the lowest cost-per-mile of any rural fixed route transit system in the state of Pennsylvania. Our management structure is small and streamlined, so each of us has many responsibilities. My main responsibilities are safety, accident investigation, training, human resources, route planning, risk management and compliance. I also run our DOT Drug and Alcohol Testing program.
Crawford County is south of Erie, PA. Please tell us about the size of your system and your fixed-route and door-to-door services. It looks like you also provide service for several universities in the area.  

We are in the “snow-bow” south of Erie, which makes for some interesting days. We run a total of 10 fixed routes with large Gillig buses and have about 35 shared ride buses. Crawford County is one of the largest counties in the state, about 1,000 square miles…but way down the list on population. We have a lot of remote dirt roads in our county and they see CATA buses frequently.
There is a story that was told to me by a local citizen and I pass that story on to our new drivers to help explain what rural transit is all about.
Our county is home to a number of large gamelands where hunting is a huge deal. The gamelands are crissed crossed with roads and trails…some good, some not. One quite snowy day, two hunters were hunkered down next to a snow covered gameland trail, waiting for the deer, miles from the nearest road (or so they thought!). They heard a noise in the snow-obscured distance. Pretty soon a CATA bus materialized out of the snow squall and stops for them. They were so dumb struck at the site of a transit bus in the deep woods that at first they couldn’t find the words to tell the driver they didn’t need a ride. Sometimes rural transit really means RURAL!
ALL of our vehicles are ADA-compliant. We do over 300,000 trips annually, which for an area of this population, is an incredible number. We are experiencing a 20% annual growth in service demand. I attribute those numbers to the very pro-active work of our Executive Director and Operations Manager who work hard to get the word out about us by visiting potential customers such as nursing homes, senior centers and local community groups. We also provide dedicated bus service to Allegheny College and University of Pittsburgh at Titusville. Our area is an aging community. We have a large number of senior citizens who depend on CATA because most of the younger members of their families have left the area looking for work or an education, leaving Mom and Dad living here without someone to take them where they need to go. That’s where CATA comes in. We do hundreds of routine necessity trips a week. Mom can get out to the hair dresser, then the grocery store and then stop at the pharmacy or doctor’s office and never have to worry about the weather, parking, gas prices or their health affecting her driving abilities.  We have seen an increase in recreational trips too. Groups of seniors who get together to go to special events, be it shopping at a distant mall, a concert, ball game or a special restaurant. That they call us for this leisure travel is in my opinion, a clear indication that we are doing something right.
ESPA’s focus in February is customer service.  What type of training does CATA offer its employees on customer service topics, particularly customer service for riders with disabilities?  How often do you offer training to your operators and office employees?
CATA has a five-day classroom initial drivers training course which is followed by five days of riding with a “Mentor” Driver. These are senior drivers who have the experience and pass on what they know about the routes and how buses really work…outside of the classroom. New CATA drivers also spend an entire day in our training bus, working on mobility device securement and passenger assistance. The new drivers then spend a couple of days with one of our most senior drivers who has over 20 years experience and knows how to secure just about any device you could get on board.  Only when she is satisfied that the new drivers are ready, do they get to move on to the final phases of our training program which includes evacuation of people with mobility impairments (with a rescue dummy and smoke machine) and disability awareness training. We also have twice-yearly safety meetings where we cover subjects like new regulations, equipment & service changes and continuing education training.
All of our non-driving employees such as dispatchers, book keepers, bus cleaners, and administrative assistants are required to complete the disability awareness and disability customer service sections of our driver training. We also train our drivers how to handle some of the more common medical emergencies they may encounter such as seizures, strokes and dementia. Our “seasoned” drivers are also required to recertify each year in mobility device securement.
CATA employees participating in a training course.

Are there any “lessons learned” or “words of wisdom” regarding safety, compliance, and customer service that you think are particularly important? What would be your top two or three tips for operators serving people with disabilities?
I tell all of our new drivers to remember that any one of us could be needing this service at some point in our lives, be it from an accident, illness or just advancing years…put yourselves in their place and be the solution to their transportation challenge. In the case of our senior citizens, their trip with CATA may very well be the highlight of that person’s social life. This may be their only contact with the world. Go the extra mile and make it a special day.
This job is NOT about driving the bus. This job is about getting the customers where they need to go. The bus driving is just a tool to get the job done!
#1 Be understanding. Be patient.

#2 Treat the customers exactly like you would want to be treated. Treat them as if they were your mother, father, brother, or sister.

#3 Treat the customer as a person, not a disability. Talk to the person, not the device!

#4 Everyone has a bad day now and then. If you encounter a customer having issues and they take it out on you, remember, it’s not personal. Let it go. When you park the bus at the end of your shift, leave those stresses on the bus. Don’t take it home with you. When you come back to work tomorrow, you will probably find that those stresses left the bus in the night. 
Final thoughts?

#1 With the aging of America’s population, ADA-compliant travel is in ever increasing demand. We must be pro-active and be ready. We must not treat a person who has a mobility challenge as a problem, but rather as a chance to prove we are the solution to the transportation challenge they face each day.
#2 The hiring of good people is essential. It is not enough to be able to safely drive a bus. In fact we’ve hired some who have never driven a large vehicle in their life. We hired them because it was apparent that they were a “people person”.  I can teach most to drive safely and do the job. I can’t teach you to be a pleasant, out-going human being. That’s a quality you are born with or not! 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Ask the Expert: Rebecca H. Hunter, M.Ed., Research Associate, University of North Carolina Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

What is your background?

Rebecca H. Hunter
I’ve been privileged to follow many different paths over the years. Trained as a counselor, I spent the first 15 years of my career in mental health. During those years, while traveling throughout North Carolina, I saw firsthand the impact of communities on the health and well-being of their residents. During my subsequent years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,  I embraced a community-oriented public heath perspective while working in health professions education, teaching rural health, and conducting aging research in partnership with communities. Today I am proud to be affiliated with UNC’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, one of CDC’s Prevention Research Centers, and a member of the CDC-Healthy Aging Research Network (CDC-HAN) (www.prc-han.org).  My work on community wayfinding is though the CDC-HAN, a network of several academic centers across the county, including local and national partners. I also work on pedestrian safety and walkability, and brain health issues.
How are health and wayfinding connected?
When thinking about wayfinding—the process of finding our way from place to place—it’s useful to consider that we are all “wayfarers” and have been so since the beginning of time. Knowing that we can find our way is pretty basic to our sense of self. In fact, many of us take pride in pinpointing where we are and knowing which way to go to find key landmarks or places of interest or importance. We feel especially good when we succeed in finding our destination in an unfamiliar or challenging place. At the same time, if wayfinding is problematic for us, then we may be insecure in venturing out. We may be less willing to explore new places whether traveling on foot or by cycling, driving or using public transit. 
So we can think of wayfinding as something that is crucial to our mobility, whether we are walking or using other means of transport. It is a vital link to a variety of activities that are important to our well-being, such as physical activity, shopping, visiting family and friends, working or volunteering, and enjoying community cultural or sporting events. All of these are activities known to be important to personal health.
Poor wayfinding may also increase health and safety risks. For example, a jumbled group of signs may confuse freeway drivers who then create a safety hazard for themselves or others. Pedestrians may lose their way, walking further than intended and increasing risk of fatigue and exposure to the elements. Such a situation can be especially dangerous for frail older adults or people with chronic health conditions that affect their stamina.
As these examples suggest, poor wayfinding can be result from the individual’s status, for example, problems with vision, or from a community environment that lacks good design features and aids that support wayfinding. Since changing individuals is not always feasible or even desirable, it is important that our community environments are well designed for wayfinding and have a variety of wayfinding aids, such as well-organized and maintained signage and information systems, that help people navigate regardless of their abilities and regardless of their mode of travel (see Pathways to Better Community Wayfinding). While rare at present, integrated pedestrian, motor vehicle, bicycle and transit wayfinding systems can contribute significantly to more livable communities for all. They also support community health through economic and commercial vitality and increased walking and cycling with reduced pedestrian and motor vehicle injuries and fatalities. Air quality benefits when drivers are efficient in wayfinding and when more people find it easy to walk, cycle or use public transit, rather than driving. All in all, good wayfinding is a win-win for individual and community health.
What work has the CDC-Healthy Aging Research Network done around wayfinding, including for people with disabilities?
Our focus on community wayfinding grew out of our work on community environments that support healthy aging. It began with a simple question: Why isn’t ease of wayfinding routinely considered in work to build healthy communities? After all, we all have to find our way from place to place! Moreover, we know that wayfinding can be more challenging for older adults and for anyone with functional limitations. Demographic projections make it clear that our population is aging and that there will also be an increase in the numbers of people with disabilities.  From a public health perspective, we want to enable people to be active and engaged in the lives of their communities for as long as possible. Good wayfinding environments can make a big difference!
Now it has been almost three years since we began work on wayfinding. First, we created a series of items to assess wayfinding and added them to the CDC-HAN Environmental Audit Tool for use in comprehensive community assessments of neighborhood walking conditions. Secondly, we were delighted to assist in creating the Easter Seals Project ACTION Neighborhood Wayfinding Assessment Pocket Guide a brief, user-friendly tool for evaluating how well neighborhood infrastructure helps people find their way.
We next conducted an extensive review of published literature across numerous disciplines. We drew upon findings to develop a conceptual framework for community wayfinding to promote understanding across sectors and to focus attention on relevant public health outcomes. We are preparing a manuscript detailing that work. Concurrently, with the leadership of David X. Marquez at the University of Illinois, Chicago, we conducted an exploratory study of older adult wayfinding in the neighborhood of South Chicago. Participants in that study included several people with mobility or cognitive limitations. We are wrapping up a manuscript on that project. Currently, we are completing a review of the literature on technologies to support community wayfinding ranging from individual user tools to complex wayfinding systems.
We also prepared a compendium of practice and policy resources which is available on the CDC-HAN website (http://www.prc-han.org/docs/CWF_practice_policy_grey_lit_15nov13.pdf). In addition, we convened an expert panel of representatives from the fields of planning, engineering, architecture, transportation, public health and universal design to share their perceptions of wayfinding barriers, best practices and sector-specific and cross-sector recommendations. The panel came together for a “cross-fertilization” meeting to define key themes and recommendations for Pathways to Better Community Wayfinding. Now our goal is to broadly disseminate Pathways and to promote action to improve wayfinding in all of our communities.

I should mention that wayfinding is one of those areas where there is a lot of research and observation of the particular challenges faced by people with disabilities, especially people with visual or cognitive challenges.  There is also a lot of product development going on, both for personal products, like smartphone apps, and environmental products, like improved audible beacons at pedestrian crossings.  What is exciting about much of this work is that innovations stand to benefit all users. Audible beacons, for example, will not only help the walker with low vision, but perhaps also serve to prompt the teenager distracted by texting or the harried young mother with toddlers in tow.
What health results have you seen first-hand in local communities, including regarding people with disabilities?
Truth be told, we are a very long way from where we need to be in the areas of wayfinding practice and policy. That makes this question a difficult one to answer, as many communities have yet to tap into a vision of wayfinding that includes public health goals. The good news is that communities, whether large cities or small towns, already allocate resources to wayfinding; the bad news is that communities tend to focus those resources narrowly. Some will emphasize branding; others, economic goals such as getting people to commercial areas or other community attractions. Traditionally, there has not been a great deal of attention to pedestrian wayfinding and even less to bicycle wayfinding. And unfortunately, there is little integration across transportation modes, jurisdictions and even neighborhoods within a single community.
This situation is largely the result of a lack of guidelines and widely known best practices.  As such, the process of implementing best practices in local communities and assessing results is just beginning to take off, so there is not a great deal to report yet. At the same time, we are seeing exciting new approaches to wayfinding that offer direction to other communities. London (U.K.) is one shining example. Through the Legible London initiative, the city has made great strides to transform London from a confusing and intimidating city for pedestrians to an inviting, inclusive, walk-friendly city. Legible London has an explicit public health agenda to increase walking for health as well as to foster economic and environmental benefits. Increased walking In the U.S., New York City has a similar initiative that is yielding results such as reducing the numbers of visitors and residents getting lost in the city. Nashville (TN) is using wayfinding aids to link community residents to physical activity opportunities. These and other examples are highlighted in Pathways.
The big challenge is always how to effectively get wayfinding and related issues in front of planners and decision makers, so that change can happen and results ensue. In the Walk Wise, Drive Smart project, community members, including people with disabilities, taught us that accessibility, safety and ease of wayfinding go hand in hand. By participating in neighborhood walking assessments with planners, public works and transportation officials, they also helped these influential decision makers understand problems in the pedestrian environment from a very immediate and compelling human perspective. It is one thing to observe a problem sans people and quite another matter, for example, to see an older person with a walker stranded in the roadway when the light changes or to see a person in a wheelchair resort to riding on a busy street because of sidewalk obstructions.
Focused efforts like these involving community residents and planners and decision-makers and implementers (e.g. residential and commercial developers) can have a big impact. We see that happening all over the country in initiatives to improve community walkability, promote safe routes, implement complete streets and achieve healthy communities. However, the issue of wayfinding is not always an integral part of these initiatives, and we need to change that.

How can communities use Pathways to Better Community Wayfinding to improve current conditions?
We hope Pathways will be a catalyst for community wayfinding practice and policy improvement. Pathways looks at what we know about wayfinding, how communities currently approach wayfinding, and what needs to be done to create better wayfinding for all people, regardless of age or ability. Planners and policy makers can use it to assess community practices and wayfinding-relevant policies across all transportation modes and in development and redevelopment. The content and recommended action steps in Pathways can also serve as a starting point for dialogue among citizens and professionals of differing backgrounds toward the goal of improved wayfinding for people of all ages and abilities.
If wayfinding is to be easy, seamless and enjoyable, then the community vision of wayfinding must be expanded well beyond tourism, city image and commercial goals. Indeed, good wayfinding is basic to vital and livable communities and supports public health and safety of all motorists, walkers, cyclists and transit users. A broad vision of wayfinding makes for the best possible use of community resources.

Final thoughts?
Wayfinding can be a tough topic. Many people have never thought about it beyond their immediate experiences, and the different professionals who work in this area do not always collaborate. We hope you will share Pathways with others in your community, region or state and join us in working to get this issue the attention it needs. Together we can find the way!

Monday, January 6, 2014

It’s All Part of the Mix: Mobility Management, Voucher Programs, and Volunteer Driver Programs

By Whitney E. Gray

When communities come together to enhance transportation services, they may need to look at multiple options and aspects of accessibility. From curb ramps, bus lifts, and taxis to one-call/one-click centers and social media, creating a fully coordinated system may take more effort but is more inclusive for all. In Bloomington, Indiana, for instance, the community has discovered that full accessibility requires an in-depth look at all aspects of their transportation system. The community has continued to see an increase in inclusivity for all as they enhance different aspects of the system and create new services.

The Bloomington ATCI Team (2011)
In 2011, the community of Bloomington, applied and was accepted to Easter Seals Project ACTION’s Accessible Transportation Coalitions Initiative. As a result of their participation in ATCI, the Bloomington team established the Monroe County Coalition for Access and Mobility (see MCCAM’s Facebook page). Several organizations in the community are members, including Bloomington Transit, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, Indiana University, the Area 10 Agency on Aging, Ivy Tech Community College, and the National Center on Accessibility, along with advocates who have disabilities, and community social workers. The group has met monthly for two years, and someone with a disability is usually in attendance.

To begin their work and better determine the needs of the community, MCCAM first worked to collect data on the types of requests that Bloomington Transit and Rural Transit (a service of the AAA) received that they could not meet. The group identified the need to have a mobility manager to develop a transportation voucher program and research the viability of a volunteer driver program. To fund the mobility manager position, Bloomington Transit applied for and received a grant through the Federal Transit Administration’s New Freedom Program, in 2013. The transit company implemented the grant through the AAA and hired, in May of 2013, Barbara Salisbury, a member of MCCAM and a community advocate, on a part-time basis.

Salisbury’s next project will be to look at the viability of a volunteer driver program. She will start by looking at available resources in the community to see what coordination efforts might be successful in expanding, even further, the transportation options for people with disabilities. 

Bloomington Transit just recently applied for a second New Freedom grant and hopes to learn in early, 2014, as to whether they will be awarded this grant.  These funds will be used to provide additional dollars for the voucher program and expand the mobility management activities to include mobility education and travel training. 

At the most recent MCCAM meeting, the group decided to take a look at transportation from a broader perspective and focus on pedestrian issues in their area. For a future meeting, the MPO is planning to send a representative to talk to the group about the policies and practices in place for the city, area, and county regarding pedestrian development. Questions regarding pedestrian access that the group may look at include:

• How do people get from point A to point B for bus access?

• Are pedestrian traffic signals accessible?

• Is pedestrian traffic signal retro-fitting possible?

• How accessible for all disabilities are the curb ramps in the community?

• What kind of policies already exist in the community that MCCAM can build off of?

• What policies need to and can be changed?

• Where can we be the most affective if we go forward with pedestrian issues?

Salisbury has also organized an additional advisory committee with primarily consumers and stakeholders including people with disabilities and people providing direct support and care for people with disabilities. This advisory committee provides direct input on the programs and activities of the mobility management project. 

As both her committee and MCCAM move forward with accessible transportation initiatives, ESPA continues to provide technical assistance as needed. Krystian Boreyko, ESPA training and technical assistance specialist who works with the community of Bloomington, stated, “The Bloomington ATCI team has grown and developed goals far and above their original ATCI project. Always with an inclusive mind-set, the team is working on both small and larger aspects of accessible transportation, leading to a more coordinated and inclusive transportation system for all.”

To speak with ESPA about technical assistance for your community, call 800-659-6428, (TTY) 202-347-7385, or email projectaction@easterseals.com.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ask the Expert: Jeremy Johnson Miller, Rural Central Iowa Mobility Coordinator Under Contract with Heart of Iowa Regional Transit Agency

What is your background?

Born and raised in Eastern Iowa, I moved to the Des Moines metropolitan area shortly after college and have lived here for almost 10 years. I have a Bachelor’s degree from The University of Iowa with a major in Geography. I have worked in a wide range of professional capacities including in the fields of public health, direct care, case management, and transportation management.

How did you become involved in mobility management?

As a county transportation manager, I was able to work closely with our regional transit provider, who contracted with each of its seven rural counties. By working with low-income families, I quickly discovered gaps in services where improvement was obviously needed. The Heart of Iowa Regional Transit Agency (HIRTA) then offered me a contracted position as mobility coordinator to work with seven rural counties in Central Iowa. HIRTA saw being able to have the first-hand knowledge of what the community actually needs and how the community works as invaluable.

What types of training did you receive? 

I took a hands-on approach to developing the mobility management program at HIRTA. Since it was an entirely new program, I needed to learn everything about transportation. I immediately looked to organizations like the Community Transportation Association of America and Easter Seals Project ACTION to provide some direction, ultimately applying for many opportunities to enhance my knowledge base. I have taken many webinars and attended many conferences. I learned the most, however, from formalized trainings, which included: Managing Community Mobility (National Transit Institute), Introduction to Travel Training (ESPA), Design Thinking for Mobility Solutions (CTAA), and Job Links: Strategies for Employment-Related Mobility (CTAA).

What modes of transportation are available in your area?

Iowa is unique; we have a regionalized system, which allows each county to have access to public transportation. Here in Central Iowa, we have two urban systems (Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority and CyRide) and one rural system (HIRTA Public Transit). In addition to the traditional systems, we have many volunteer driving groups, private for-profit transit companies, and local cab companies.

What types of services do you provide?

As a mobility coordinator, I provide community outreach and education to Iowa’s seven counties. I attend monthly/quarterly meetings within the community, essentially bringing transit to the table. I have sat on many project planning committees and have attended several conferences providing further education about our services. I am a qualified travel trainer and can provide one-on-one or group bus orientation to familiarize new or existing riders to HIRTA Public Transit.

How do people with disabilities or older adults access your services?

Our public transit services are open to the general public. People with disabilities and older adults can access HIRTA by calling our scheduling number and providing their information as needed. Those who need further assistance typically rely on a case manager or family member to assist with scheduling. Our entire fleet of vehicles is Americans with Disabilities Act compliant and is maintained per Federal Transit Administration regulations. We also operate on-demand, door-to-door transportation services for anyone who needs a ride. We have a wide range of marketing tools to distribute to new or current customers, our website is easy to use, we have also joined social media outlets to further our community exposure.

What benefits does mobility management have for people with disabilities and older adults in rural areas?

Our services are available to the entire seven-county region and are not limited to city limits or fixed routes. We are able to provide transit services to communities needing assistance through bringing our bus to the customer in need of a ride. In the rural areas, we typically find people with disabilities or aging adults who are isolated and alone without any support system. By bringing our buses into the rural community/setting, we have the ability to connect people to a more populous area.
What results from your work have you seen in the community? 

I have been able to make new connections for HIRTA Public Transit. By bringing transit to the table, human service agencies are finally able to gain access to answers about transit. I was also able to add several transit questions to a community needs assessment questionnaire, giving us access to information never gained before. In addition, I have worked with a local group struggling to maintain attendance with local transit providers, providing a reliable/consistent voice to meet with them on a regular basis. This same group was able to achieve funding to expand hours to better serve their community, which probably could not have been possible without a reliable transit voice at the table.

I helped revive a struggling transportation advisory group (TAG). This group had seen turnover and a decrease in attendance. After making connections in the community, I brought in vital resources from the community to enhance our conversations. Through this group, I gathered information regarding a shuttle service between two populous towns for college students. This service has had its ups and downs but has continued to have support from the agencies within the community.

Upon joining another local TAG, I helped a community conduct a survey to determine unmet needs of the area. We soon discovered that citizens did not know where to access information. We quickly gained funding and created an easy resource guide, Anyone Can Ride! Story County Transportation (PDF),  to distribute to the community about transportation options in the area. Along with this guide, we provided a quick tutorial to front line workers at medical and other human service agencies, encouraging them  to ask people “do you have transportation?” before scheduling appointments.

Currently, I am a co-leader on a project funded by the Administration for Community Living and CTAA. We are conducting an extensive survey in an eight-county region while rallying community partners to enhance our efforts tenfold. As part of this study, we have performed multiple focus groups to gather as much information about the pros and cons of public transit, ultimately including riders into the planning process. The end product will be a resource guide for anyone needing transit assistance along with a written document outlining full survey results and recommendations for moving forward. At the same time, we have been accepted for ESPA’s Accessible Transportation Technical Support Project, which will help us to move our project forward and determine a feasible path for our group into future planning efforts.

My greatest achievement to date is being named 2013 Mobility Manager of Year by FTA Region VII. In this inaugural year, FTA Region VII along with my fellow mobility management peers nominated me as the first recipient. Having been leader of the Iowa Mobility Management Network Chair for  two years and a representative on the Iowa Transportation Coordination Council, this award came as a humbling event to secure my hard work and dedication to my craft.

Final thoughts?

I truly thank everyone who has crossed my path as a mobility coordinator, from the individual customers who I was able to connect to transit and help them gain independence in their everyday life to the national contacts who have guided me and provided great outreach and technical support along the way.  Successful transportation coordination is dependent on the involvement of all community partners and groups of riders.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Conducting Bus Stop Accessibility Evaluations in Fort Wayne, Indiana

By Whitney E. Gray

Bus stop evaluations can be a large task for communities to take on, but they are necessary in order to ensure that all stops remain accessible. Over time, equipment or hardware can break, more accessible technology may become available, and the needs of a community can change. Making sure that bus stops are accessible based on current standards ensures that the fixed-route bus system is inclusive for all riders.

In 2012, the Indiana Department of Transportation informed the city of Fort Wayne, among others, that it was important to come into compliance with new Americans with Disabilities Act Public Rights of Way Guidelines (PROWAG). Though the federal guidelines had not yet been adopted, INDOT wanted to help cities get transition plans in place. One component of PROWAG focused on bus stops, and Fort Wayne’s last bus stop assessment had been conducted 10 years earlier. In addition, their bus stop assessment had not included all of the criteria that were now a part of the PROWAG standards, such as sidewalk accessibility and bus pad availability.

A volunteer evaluates a bus stop
Needing technical assistance, the Fort Wayne Public Transportation Corporation (Citilink) applied and was accepted to ESPA’s Accessible Transportation Technical Support Project in 2013. ATTS helps communities formulate an action plan to address specific local accessible transportation needs. With assistance from ESPA and ADA-Indiana’s Coros ADA Community Grant program, the Fort Wayne ATTS team developed project goals and then recruited and trained 30 volunteers from community partners (Citilink, Fifth Freedom, League for Blind & Disabled, ARC, City Street Department, Regional Planning, etc.). The training event, the team’s first goal, focused on ADA regulations for bus stops and how to evaluate the accessibility of bus stops.  The next day, five teams evaluated stops in their assigned areas of town.

To date, volunteers have assessed approximately 1,200 bus stops and collected 47 data items describing each stop (date, stop ID, route number, street name/cross/type/location, parking/loading/bike lane, sign-mounting/route info, boarding area, sidewalk, curb/ramp, shelter, seating, lighting, bike rack, land use, photo & GPS coordinates). Volunteers have taken two or more pictures at each location, and the regional planning district has integrated the survey information into a more comprehensive Bus Stop Database. The data has been checked for quality, and locations where data was incomplete or missing were re-surveyed. Per the team's project plan, Citilink (the public transit system), the city of Fort Wayne street department, Northeastern Indiana Regional Coordinating Council staff, and volunteers will monitor and maintain the database. This database will be used to develop, implement and monitor a prioritized bus stop improvement plan.

The team is also exploring methods for integrating the sidewalk and curb ramp data— maintained by the Fort Wayne Board of Works—with the Bus Stop Database, which will allow for a more thorough evaluation of accessibility. The project progress and findings to date have been presented to ADA-Indiana and ESPA.

ESPA looks forward to continuing to work with the Fort Wayne ATTS team on their bus stop assessments. For more information on evaluate accessibility, check out ESPA’s Assessments webpage.