Coordination vital in filling local transportation access gaps

Every five years, regional organizations throughout Minnesota submit local human service public transit coordination plans, which the Federal Transit Administration requires for regions to qualify for FTA Section 5310 funding that supports the enhanced mobility of seniors and people with disabilities. The MnDOT Office of Transit and Active Transportation and Minnesota Department of Human Services have partnered with local planning organizations throughout Minnesota to carry out the planning process for Local Human Service-Public Transit Coordination Plans since 2006.

In 2022, the regions again worked to update the local coordination plans, but with the addition of Regional Transportation Coordinating Councils (RTCCs), which help strengthen planning, make more efficient use of resources, and improve transportation access.

Minnesota RTCCs—developed as a result of local coordination plans in 2017—now involve a coalition of representatives from the diverse agencies, nonprofits, and for-profit organizations that address gaps in transportation access.

“RTCCs were formed from the 2017 local coordination plans to look at larger regional areas than cities and counties,” said Tom Gottfried, MCOTA executive director and MnDOT program director for mobility management.

While many transportation options exist, they don’t exist equally for all people and all regions, Gottfried said. Though Minnesota has relatively robust rural public transit services, “none of the public transit services would ever claim that they meet all the transportation needs of their geographical area or region,” he explained.

Coordination is vital in filling the gaps. For example, a regional organization may find federal funding to purchase a bus or van, but questions would remain about who drives it, who pays the driver, and who insures, stores, and maintains the vehicle. RTCCs help facilitate the relationships that put all the necessary pieces in place.

Local coordination plans help shape the agendas of the RTCCs as they advance their workplan strategies and actions.

But this year, Gottfried is seeing a concerning trend among transportation providers: a significant drop in the number of volunteer drivers due to COVID-19, further limiting transportation access at a time when tax and insurance barriers had already contributed to a decrease. One regional provider lost 40 out of 70 volunteer drivers during the pandemic. Other staff shortages were also noted as a challenge. Positive trends shown in the local coordination plans are increased awareness, coordination, and public engagement as well as strong stakeholder support for RTCCs.

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