Northwest RTCC: Understanding barriers

By attending meetings of the Alliance for Mental Health Initiative, Lynnell Simonson Popowski learns more about the transportation barriers that community members in the seven-county region face. The alliance brings together the directors of social services and other providers of mental health services under the direction of Shannon Abrahamson of Alluma, formerly Northwestern Mental Health Center.

Seven northwestern Minnesota counties on map

The alliance was planning an event that involved a 5K walk/run, E-Race the Stigma, and speakers for September Suicide Prevention and Awareness month. The event ended at 9 p.m., but buses quit running at 8:30 p.m.

“I brought the need to Tri-Valley Transportation Program contact, Marcia Haglund, who offered to keep the buses running an extra hour to be sure people could get home from the event,” says Simonson Popowski, regional transportation coordinator, Northwest Regional Development Commission. “The organization then offered to provide the rides to and from the event, for free. This benefit was advertised throughout the area with the marketing materials.”

When it appeared that no one took advantage of the offer, it prompted an important discussion about the barriers that prevent those who most need to participate from using public transit.

“We talked about the need for travel training and the options currently available through Tri-Valley Transportation,” she says. “I found that even though this might look like a less-than-successful effort, we used it as a learning opportunity. I think the group was pleased that we could dig deeper into the real needs of their clients and provide resources they did not know were available. We will be arranging travel training opportunities in each county this year and tracking any new transit riders by providing them with a special bus pass.”