Enhanced Mobility expands travel options for seniors and individuals with disabilities

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Wheelchair-accessible buses are just one of many types of projects funded by the Enhanced Mobility program. (TPB)

What do wheelchair-accessible vans, programs to educate seniors about mobility options, and coordinating teams of volunteer drivers to provide rides for seniors and people with disabilities have in common? They are all examples of the kinds of projects that can receive funding through the federal Enhanced Mobility program. The TPB plays a key role in administering Enhanced Mobility funding in the Washington region a program that helps provide greater freedom to more people in the region.

Enhanced Mobility supports a wide range of efforts to improve and expand mobility options for seniors and individuals with disabilities. Initiatives generally aim to remove barriers that make it difficult for persons with limited mobility to access and use existing transportation services, or they aim to provide new services altogether to fill gaps in the existing system. Non-profit organizations, local governments, operators of public transit, and private for-profit providers are all eligible to apply for the funding.

The next solicitation for Enhanced Mobility funding is now underway. The application window opened in early August and will close November 3. Potential applicants must attend a pre-application conference. Three workshops have already been held–one each in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. Two more are planned in the District, one on August 23 and the other on August 29. The conferences provide a way for applicants to learn how they can strengthen their chances for selection. They also provide more knowledge and training for potential grantees to run successful programs and as a result better serve the region.

MORE: Register for the final Pre-application conference on Aug 29

The TPB plays two key roles in the Enhanced Mobility program. 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.

TPB and COG began funding such projects in 2008 under two former federal programs, Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) and New Freedom. Through those programs, the TPB funded 59 projects totaling $22 million. Since 2012, when the MAP-21 surface transportation legislation created the Enhanced Mobility program, the TPB and COG have so far funded 34 projects totaling $10 million.

To select projects, the TPB convenes an independent selection committee made up of local representatives as well as national experts on transit, human services, aging, and disability issues. Chaired by a TPB member, the committee will make its funding recommendations based on six criteria. These six criteria include coordinating across agencies and jurisdictions, whether the applicant has the capacity to manage the grant, and how responsive the projects are to the goals and needs identified in the TPB’s Coordinated Human Service Transportation Plan.

This year, the selection committee will be giving greater consideration to applications that address the priority projects within the TPB’s Coordinated Human Service Transportation Plan. The TPB works with its Access for All Advisory Committee (AFA) to confirm priority projects for the region.

In all there are 12 such priorities that have been identified for the 2017 solicitation.

  • Mobility Manager Positions at the Local Government Level: These are staff positions designated to manage and coordinate transportation services for older adults and people with disabilities.
  • Challenge Grants for Coordinated Planning Efforts: These projects emphasize the importance of coordinating at the local level. Funds could be used to make the planning process more inclusive or to encourage non-traditional but interested parties to be involved.
  • Personal Mobility Counseling Services: This refers to individual help to identify a person’s mobility needs and preferences and providing information about options in their community.
  • Travel Training: Travel training teaches people with disabilities or older adults how to use fixed-route services. Travel training can be conducted in an individual or group setting.
  • Door-through-Door or Escorted Transportation Service: These programs provide some extra safety and assistance to a rider. It does not include heavy assistance such as lifting or handling medical needs but could involves escorting a person to the door, helping with a coat, or gathering documents.
  • Sensitivity and Customer Service Training: This is training for drivers, station managers, or other customer facing service providers who have direct interaction with older adults and people with disabilities.
  • Bus Stop and Sidewalk Improvements: These projects help remove barriers for people using public transit by addressing missing infrastructure such as curb cuts, sidewalks, and signs.
  • Deviated Bus or Feeder Service for a Targeted Area: These projects provide a bus or feeder service for customers with disabilities. These routes can be fixed and run by a transit or non-profit agency in partnership.
  • Volunteer Driver Programs: These are programs that fill a role in outer suburban and rural areas where there are fewer transportation options.
  • Tailored Transportation Service for Clients of Human Service Agencies: These are vehicle acquisitions that assist people with disabilities for whom public transit is not a viable option.

Although the selection committee will be taking this priority project list into greater consideration, creativity and innovation beyond these projects is still encouraged.

MORE: Read the TPB’s Coordinated Human Service Transportation Plan

The Enhanced Mobility selection committee will finalize its recommendations in December. Next, those recommendations will be sent to the TPB for approval in January or February of 2018. Grantees whose projects are approved at that time would be able to begin their projects in the spring of 2019.

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