Friday, October 14, 2011

Upcoming Events & Training; Local Perspectives on Livability

Federal Transit Administration
FTA has upcoming listening sessions and webinars about civil rights and environmental justice. The listening sessions will discuss the proposed circulars about those topics.

National Transit Institute
Strollers, Carts, and Other Large Items on Buses and Trains (TCRP Synthesis 88) - webinar - Nov. 17, 2011. This webinar will highlight practices implemented by transit agencies to manage the capacity on vehicles carrying customers with large items, including wheelchairs; Segways; scooters and other mobility aids; strollers; bicycles; luggage, and miscellaneous items, such as skis and dog carriers. A review of the various types of transit vehicles and modifications agencies have made to their vehicles to accommodate large items will be discussed.
Managing Community Mobility - various dates to March 2012.
Comprehensive ADA Paratransit Eligibility - various dates to March 2012.

Community Transportation Association of America
CTAA Train-the-trainer for driver training, safety and security, and transportation solutions coordinator work. Visit CTAA's training page for more information.

Easter Seals Project ACTION
Accessible Transportation Coalitions Initiative - currently accepting applications. ESPA will select 10 communities through a competitive application process to participate. ATCI is a systems change model designed to improve accessible transportation options for people with disabilities. Selected communities will receive on-site facilitation and targeted technical assistance during a two-day event to learn the ATCI model and develop an accessible transportation plan. ESPA will continue to provide targeted technical assistance over the subsequent year while communities implement this plan.
[Portland light rail station with biker waiting for the train.]

Misconceptions about Livability

A new report from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) looks at perceived barriers to livability projects in rural, tribal and other types of areas. The Regional Livability Workshops report summarizes five workshops held across the country and suggests strategies
"to raise awareness of transportation linkages to livability, and to provide resources to practitioners and the public to more effectively consider livability issues within the Federal transportation planning process."
While most communities do have a set of goals or vision statements, workshop participants noted that the most effective visions are those that emerge from a collaborative visioning, planning or scenario development process. Participants noted quite often, these efforts include a strong outreach process that brings together both multidisciplinary interests as well as public and private constituencies. These processes can spur lasting relationships and coalitions that ultimately help create local keepers of the vision. It was also noted when a strong vision is present, project prioritization and project delivery methods can demonstrate clear policy choices between various alternatives. This direct link helps foster identification and implementation of transportation investments in support of community goals.

Community goals reflect the unique character, values, and priorities of a given place. Participants discussed the need to better align regional, State or Federal goals in transportation and mobility with local community goals. One strategy includes documenting existing goals at each level (Federal, State, regional and local) or across differing agencies and identifying where commonalities or conflicts exist. This can help to understand the tradeoffs or policy issues that need to be considered to more effectively align transportation priorities with local livability goals.

Livability TA

Environmental Protection Agency
EPA’s fall 2011 Request for Letters of Interest (PDF: for direct assistance from the agency is now open. EPA will be accepting letters of interest for the next round of Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities from September 28 to October 28, 2011. Subsequent application periods will depend on budget constraints and will be announced on the Smart Growth page.

Local Stories

Twitter brings interesting stories to me and succinctly exposes my brain to useful and inexpensive tools for transit and other mobility options. This article from the Tennessean, More Cyclists, Walkers Counted in Middle TN, demonstrates that a cheap, volunteer tool can provide a snapshot of how people travel at what locations. Since a pedestrian-friendly street network is essential to transit, a one-day audit in a Tennessee community supplied useful information about where people are willing to walk and bike. Although biking is not an option for many handicapped individuals and is not a preference for many others, the bicycling rate is an indicator of how safe the street network feels to non-auto users.

Th Broome County, New York area (Binghamton area) is creating a one-call transportation center. This week, CTAA hosted a Transportation Solutions training, which was covered in the local news. The Broome-Tioga Mobility Management Project (BTMMP) call center will be housed at the local United Way. The BTMMP partnership was created to help meet the need for increased transportation services in both Broome and Tioga Counties. BTMMP will help those in need to arrange and coordinate transportation using all available resources. The BTMMP partners have been planning the project since December 2010.
BTMMP is a multi-agency partnership funded in part by the Community Foundation for South Central New York; the AmeriCorps National Service Program; Tioga Transport, Inc.; and with in-kind contributions from BTMMP partner organizations.

Food for thought: One thing I noticed in reading a local article about transportation options desired in a rural community was that the meeting to air the community's wish list was taking place on a weekday morning during traditional work hours. Well-organized advocates and staff of government organizations were expected. No mention was made of remote access or feedback or why a time that would exclude most working people would be chosen.
[Portland light rail on a Saturday morning.]

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

State DOT Survey Responses - Effectiveness of Federally Mandated Coordination Planning

National Cooperative Highway Research Program Research Results Digest 354, A Review of Human Services Transportation Plans and Grant Programs is worth a careful read. While I am summarizing parts of the report here that apply nationally, there are in-depth portions about particular states that are illuminating. This report is part of the series of ongoing research that is performed for AASHTO's Standing Committee on Public Transportation. The NRC Director, Chris Zeilinger, serves as a liaison to the panels that oversee all the work that is conducted under NCHRP Project 20-65.

State DOTs were surveyed to state the effectiveness of the coordinated planning effort (1) in meeting "FTA goals of enhancing transportation access, minimizing duplication of services, and facilitating the most appropriate and cost- effective transportation possible with available resources; and (2) "ascertain[ing] the cost of developing and maintaining these Coordination Plans (in terms of time and money) to ensure that resources are being used wisely and effectively, resulting in the better, more cost-effective and coordinated programs that the plans are expected to foster."

Opinions from 21 states

Twenty-one states responded to the survey. Afterward detailed telephone discussions in six geographically and demographically representative states were conducted with staff from state DOTs, planning organizations, transit agencies, human service transportation providers and non-governmental organizations.

Benefits reported from the requirement to draft coordination plans with stakeholder input were "enhancing transportation access for target populations, increasing commitment/participation in the plan development at both the state and local levels, improving coordination, and creating a general understanding of eligible JARC and NF grants." Disadvantages of the current funding streams and their administrative requirements included burdens on existing staff, while not having the resources to hire additional staff. Another problem reported was the uncertainty of future funding, which inhibited taking advantage of available funding for fear that services could not be sustained.

Specific improvements suggested

Prominent among the suggestions for improving transportation funding to meet coordination goals was "the consolidation of the Section 5316 JARC and Section 5317 NF grant programs with other federal grant programs such as Section 5310, 5311, and 5307."
With consolidation, the respondents indicated that the individual grant program goals could still be reflected in program and planning requirements, including dedicating percentages of funding to each program goal. Section 5310, Transportation for Elderly Individuals and Individuals with Disabilities, was the most frequently mentioned program for consolidating the JARC and NF grants, and several respondents indicated that these grant programs could also be consolidated with Section 5311, the Rural and Small Urban Areas grant program. By consolidating the JARC and NF grants with Section 5310 and/or 5311, the respondents felt that the states could manage the program more efficiently, while still developing a Coordination Plan (as required for Section 5310) and serving similar target populations.
The report authors pointed to concern expressed in an AARP report that the needs of target populations would be neglected were funding streams to be consolidated. That report is Policy Options to Improve Specialized Transportation.

Especially interesting is the discussion of the benefits reported about coordinated planning and its limits given the realities of current funding, lack of local control, and the difficulty in meeting the local match requirement. "[M]any of the states noted either that they believe human services transportation did not necessarily improve because of the plan, or it was difficult to tell if it had." There was broad spectrum of sources for local matching funds. Some states supplied the funds, while others did not or did so only in rural areas.

Money and performance metrics

Those involved in the telephone discussions expressed a desire for sustained funding and concrete guidance about performance measures beyond traditional transit rubrics.

[M]any respondents believe the use of standard performance measures fails to sufficiently measure the human services aspect of the projects and often favors urban areas over rural because often rural areas have higher transportation costs due to longer distances, dispersed customers and destinations, and little other infrastructure to support human services customers, which may make rural transportation appear ineffective or inefficient.

One suggestion made would be to tie grants to coordination and performance.
[R]espondents believe that by using performance measures and data, and linking federal funds to the results of this process, coordinated planning could make better use of quantitative information and link plans to results more closely. They believe that stakeholders making use of a performance-driven coordinated planning process would get even more out of the process of developing and working to implement the Coordination Plan.

Has the coordinated planning requirement delivered results?

The qualitative answer - in terms of improved and more efficient service to riders and potential riders - is generally no, or perhaps, not yet. Respondents indicated that the plans have achieved average to little success in meeting FTA's goals of minimizing the duplication of transportation services (81 percent) and facilitating the most cost-effective transportation possible with available resources (76 percent). However, states reported average to moderate success in "enhancing" transportation options for target populations.

Respondents felt the funding level and restrictive federal requirements for the JARC and NF grant programs often make it difficult to attract participants to the process. To increase participation of Section 5310 participants, one state offered an incentive for the participating agencies’ applications for vehicle grants.

Commitment and funding

It could be that in many places, the coordination process is ongoing and leading to improved efficiency and service. The respondents indicated that "the level of commitment/participation in the development of the Coordination Plans has been relatively strong at both the state and local levels. Over 70 percent of the survey respondents indicated that the level of commitment/participation at the state and local levels was average or better." Some states reported that the coordination process did add parties who had not been at the table before.

A pervasive issue the report discussed was funding, its sustainability and adequacy.
Many respondents indicated that the Coordination Plans have a “shelf life” of 4 years for non-attainment areas and 5 years for attainment areas, and they do not anticipate that the costs will be in excess of $250,000 (at least for the state). Additionally, while some states paid for the cost of initial Coordination Plan development, no state responded that the state would pay for the maintenance of the plans.

Later on in the report, responses about funding adequacy and obstacles showed widespread belief that "there is not enough money in these programs (particularly JARC) because the need is significantly larger than the funds. As a result, they report that the funds frequently are used for existing/on-going services (preservation) rather than new projects." There was also a perceived lack of clarity about the "beyond ADA" requirement for New Freedom grants.

Many of the plans were developed by consultants or existing staff, and a very few by mobility managers. There was no discussion about the effectiveness of the process, the plans or the resulting service in terms of what party prepared the plans.

Projects chosen

The JARC and New Freedom projects chosen were, from most to least, Mobility Management, Operating Funds, Capital Purchases, ADA Service, Flex Route Bus Service Travel Training, Expanded Service, Dial-a-Ride Demand Response, Feeder Service and Volunteer Transportation, with the last five each garnering one state response.