About every two years the TPB plays a key role in selecting and awarding federal grant funding to projects and initiatives throughout the region aimed at improving mobility for seniors and persons with disabilities. Over the years, dozens of non-profit organizations, local governments, transit agencies, and private for-profit providers have received funding. At a TPB-hosted forum on May 30, many of these grantees gathered to share their ideas and experiences for working to improve transportation for people with limited mobility.
Federal JARC, New Freedom, and Enhanced Mobility programs
The grantees in attendance at the May 30 forum have received funding through two former and one current Federal Transit Administration program. The two former programs are the Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) and New Freedom programs, which have since been incorporated into the current Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities program. That program consolidation occurred under the MAP-21 surface transportation legislation approved in 2012.
The goal of the Enhanced Mobility program is to improve mobility by removing barriers and expanding transportation options. The program provides grants for non-profit organizations, local governments, transit agencies, and private for-profit providers to plan or design transportation projects to meet these populations’ needs. The funds can also be used to operate or provide public transportation or alternatives to public transportation that assist seniors and individuals with disabilities.
The TPB’s role is two-fold. First, through its administrative agent, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the TPB receives and helps administer the federal grant dollars for the region. Second, the TPB solicits and reviews applications and makes the final grant awards. The TPB works with its Access for All Advisory Committee (AFA) to confirm priority projects for the region, which in the past have included travel training, wheelchair-accessible taxis, vehicles for non-profit organizations serving people with developmental disabilities, and volunteer driver programs. Then a list of recommended projects are taken to the full board for final approval. The next solicitation is set to begin in August 2017, with final project selection and approval coming in early 2018.
A grantee fair and networking session
The first part of the May 30 forum was a grantee fair and networking session that gave grantees an opportunity to get to know one another and to learn more about the variety of mobility-enhancing programs serving the region. It also gave non-profit organizations, county programs, and departments the chance to display materials about their programs and talk about what they do.
Providers ranged from the Jewish Council for the Aging, which organizes volunteer drivers in Montgomery County, Maryland, to SkillSource in Northern Virginia, which provides transportation to pre-release inmates to get to jobs and job training. All the programs help connect a diverse population to make it easier for people to get around.
Planning for projects—procurement, inspections, and more
After the grantee fair, a series of formal presentations highlighted the importance of working with multiple partners and members of the community. The speakers demonstrated the value of working across departments within the local jurisdictions. They covered the procurement process, how to bring new vehicles into service, and how to better communicate with the community about the transportation services that are available.
Two very different projects highlighted how important it is to plan out the details of grant funded programs. The City of Alexandria received funds to install pedestrian improvements for six intersections in the city. These improvements included bulb-outs to narrow the crossings and make people more visible, ramps for wheelchairs, and new pedestrian signals. Christopher Balallo, an engineer with the Department of Project Implementation, explained how the city navigated the procurement process and the steps involved. Procurement for federally funded projects can be complicated. Balallo broke it down and gave suggestions for ensuring that programs meet the federal requirements while accomplishing what is needed for the community.
The other project that highlighted advanced planning was a grant for new vehicles for the Arc of Prince William County/INSIGHT, Inc. Executive Director Karen Smith explained the impact the grant made on the community she serves—children and adults with developmental disabilities. ” Transportation plays a key role in everything we do. It allows us to get folks to and from a variety of activities. We like to say that great voyages start here.”
Smith shared exactly what happens when the Arc receives their new vehicles, from inspection to being road-ready. Once the vehicles are inspected, they may also add more wheelchair tie-downs so that they can serve more wheelchair users. She also said that newer vans with removable seats provide flexible options. All the vehicles also need to have special first-aid kits and civil rights information for riders. The Arc also has to add maintenance gear and register the vehicle.
Once the new vehicles are ready, the Arc performs pre-trip checks every day. They want to ensure that all the vehicles are in good shape and that equipment like wheelchair lifts work well. They don’t want to get to a pick-up location and be unable to serve participants.
Working together and establishing partnerships
Montgomery County was awarded a grant for Mobility Management, which refers to the way that transportation services are coordinated for older adults and people with disabilities. Shawn Brennan, mobility manager for Montgomery County Aging and Disability Services, shared some highlights of the work Montgomery County is doing to increase awareness of existing transportation options and recruit more volunteer drivers for a program there. She talked about the importance of good communication and how to increase community engagement.
Brennan shared seven tips but one theme of clear communication and inclusion emerged. She explained the importance of having attractive educational materials in many languages. She also explained how important it is to check all translations since sometimes certain aspects of a program can get lost. Finally, she highlighted the many different partners her program has enlisted to help spread the word and educate the public about the program, including the county police department and departments of recreation and environmental services.
By sharing ideas and getting to know one another, the grantees will be able to bring new ideas to better serve people in the region. They showed how their work impacts people’s lives by enabling them to stay mobile and active.