Lessons in starting a volunteer-driver program

Jennie Rowland

Jennie Rowland is transportation manager for Big Woods Transit and the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa. She described her experience in starting up a successful and needed volunteer-driver program at the February 17 forum in the Minnesota's Road to Volunteer Drivers Virtual Forum Series.

The Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa, with approximately 3,800 members located in northeastern Minnesota, is a recognized Indian Tribe under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Big Woods Transit, which serves an area of approximately 10,000 square miles, provides transportation, medical, and dental services to all native and non-native communities throughout the Arrowhead region of northern Minnesota. Travel time to medical, employment, and social services is one hour or more in any direction. It is the only public transit/non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT)/volunteer-driver program operating in this area and it connects to Arrowhead Transit and to Jefferson Lines.

"We are geographically divided, we are rural, extremely isolated, and economically depressed," she said. "We're going significant distances and, if you're transit-dependent or an elder or a veteran that requires transportation, that's where we came in with our volunteer-driver program."

To start up the volunteer-driver program, Rowland and her colleagues surveyed their communities, consulted departments and program heads, and gathered data. As a result of the process, one comment in particular, she said, moved them to action: "Of all the medical rides requested, only 50% of those rides are provided. Of the 50%, some rides never show up and others drop our elders off in another town and forget to come back for them."

This reality spurred the transit agency to develop a person-focused program rather than one fixated on rules. "We made it user-friendly, and we tried to make it user-friendly for people who call in needing rides," she said. "This is a person-focused service, and we're still writing our policy books as things come up."

Rowland’s slides and the event recording are available on the event web page.