Dakota County TCAP encourages riders through 'travel training'

Dakota County, MN

Matthew Ferrie now knows how to navigate the transportation options in Dakota County, and it’s making a big difference.

“Before travel training, I would mostly rely on my mom to drive me places,” said Ferrie, who relies on a wheelchair because of his spina bifida. “If my mom was unavailable, I really didn’t have that many options.”

A Dakota County video on its travel training program featured Ferrie, who at the time used transit options twice a day to attend a certification course, and two other travel training participants who gained independence by learning what was available to them and how to access it.

Dakota County’s TCAP supports one and a half travel trainers, whose goal is to make it possible for more community members to access available options. Those travel trainers work with public transportation and community transportation providers, many of whom are a part of Dakota County’s TCAP advisory committee.

“Dakota County has many transportation options,” said county transportation coordinator Robyn Bernardy, but they are not always widely known or understood by community members.

“Part of travel training is teaching people about all the different options,” she added. “We work with individuals with disabilities, older adults, and community members in Dakota County who want to learn the transportation options that are available to them.”

The Dakota County travel training program helps community members in three ways. Through one-on-one travel training, trainers assess a participant’s situation in advance, then teach them about the route. Trainers may accompany them on the route to help them become comfortable before they go it alone.

Trainers also meet and train groups, either in person or online. The trainers may take the group on an actual route and sometimes groups ride the route together. For example, seniors at centers may learn the bus route to an event, travel to the event on that bus route, then select another activity that requires training for a new route. Group members often can find themselves helping and learning from each other.

The third type of training, train-the-trainer helps train people who will teach others, such as case managers, teachers, and employment support providers. Because Dakota County locates its TCAP in the social services department, it’s easy to reach case managers, disability service providers and others.

“We try to meet them where they are and build the training around that group,” Bernardy said. “We have found that many case managers and teachers have never been on buses or other mass transit before. Part of it is getting them comfortable with options so that they can be an advocate in talking about this transportation option with the people they work with.”

In 2022, trainers provided group training for approximately 450 community members, and technical assistance for 600, focusing on tasks such as responding to phone calls with specific route questions. Bernardy expects only growth in travel training.

“With the continued push to have people with disabilities work in competitive employment, it needs to be a high priority, because if people can’t get to jobs, then how are they able to get them or keep them?” she asked. “There is definitely a need and demand and that’s only going to continue.”