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.

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