United We Ride or: Connecting the transportation dots

Beth Denniston
Director, National Rural Transit Assistance Program
APWA Washington, D.C. Office

APWA, through involvement in an exciting new initiative spurred by the Departments of Transportation, Health and Human Services, Labor and Education, is participating in the development and launching of a five-part transportation coordination action plan, United We Ride.

The initiative, according to Federal Transit Administrator Jenna Dorn, is designed to "set the stage for local partnerships that generate common sense solutions and deliver A-plus performance for everyone who needs transportation."

She points out that there are 62 federal programs that fund transportation services. Ironically the good intentions of these programs, whether on the federal, state or local levels, have not always made it that easy to use the transportation services as efficiently and conveniently as hoped.

Each program is so busy serving its own clients/customers that often it hasn't coordinated with other programs to "connect the dots"—and possibly save enough money to provide more services.

From a bird's-eye view, it is the "here comes the red bus followed by the green van followed by the blue bus all coming at the same time and going the same place syndrome." This view demonstrates the problems of redundant, fragmented services that often leave long gaps in the time any transit is available and big holes in communities where transit service of any kind is not available.

The pity of it all is that persons who need a ride to work, to the doctor, for education and training, for a hot meal, to the day care center, for rehabilitation services, and on through the list can't get where they need to go. And well-meaning programs are not reaching their potential due to lack of transportation. The intent of United We Ride is to change that through the following five-part process:

PART 1: A first step in the United We Ride initiative was to develop a "Framework for Action," a self-assessment tool that communities could use to determine where they were in that bird's-eye view and where they needed to go to become a fully-coordinated human services transportation system. APWA, through a grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), arranged a gathering of transit coordination experts from around the country to identify areas of success and the elements that foster success. This panel of experts provided the information needed to develop and place on the web a Framework for Action and a facilitator's guide. Go to www.fta.dot.gov/CCAM/framework.html to download them.

As a follow-up to the development of the Framework, APWA assembled a two-day training event to familiarize leaders with the contents and approach which is a self-paced self-assessment with benchmarks for progress.

PART 2: To kick off the initiative, a State Leadership Awards event took place February 23, 2004 where U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta presented awards to five states (Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington) recognizing that they were leading the way in building and implementing infrastructures, policies and programs to facilitate human service transportation coordination.

PART 3: Invitations for a delegation to come to the awards event and the National Leadership Forum which took place the next two days were issued to each governor of the states and territories by a history-making collaboration of the Secretaries of Transportation (Norman Mineta), Labor (Elaine L. Chao), Health and Human Services (Tommy G. Thompson) and Education (Rod Paige).

APWA served as a co-sponsor of the Awards and Forum and participated in the planning and the program content. Additionally, APWA developed, with backing by a consortium of organizations, a publication distributed to all Forum attendees describing the value and use of bus passes in Medicaid transportation. The brochure highlights the millions of dollars that can be saved by simply issuing a bus pass instead of providing paratransit services to persons who are able to ride a bus and are served by a regularly-scheduled transit agency. Copies of the brochure can be obtained by contacting Beth Denniston in APWA's Washington Office at (202) 408-9541 or at bdenniston@apwa.net.

A special communication—an Executive Order from President Bush—was revealed at the Forum's closing events. It calls for a cabinet level transportation coordination council composed of the secretaries of Health and Human Services, Education, Labor, Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development and the Interior, as well as the attorney general and the commissioner of Social Security. This federal level Interagency Transportation Coordinating Council is charged with promoting interagency cooperation and the appropriate mechanisms to minimize duplication and overlap of federal programs. The text of the executive order is on the web at www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/02/200040224-9.html.

PART 4: State coordination grants will be offered on a competitive basis to encourage action on the state and local levels to address gaps and needs related to human service transportation. As these become available, information will be posted on the FTA website at www.fta.dot.gov.

PART 5: There will be state and local "help along the way" through a technical assistance program that builds on the work of the Community Transit Assistance Program (CTAP), the Rural Transit Assistance Program (RTAP) that APWA directs under a contract that has been renewed consecutively for 17 years, Easter Seals Project ACTION (ESPA), and other stakeholders.

APWA, through National RTAP, will be developing a strategy to provide grassroots technical assistance on the use of the Framework for Action and the facilitator's guide.

Beth Denniston can be reached at (202) 408-9541 or at bdenniston@apwa.net.