Today was a beautiful, sunny and breezy day in Ithaca. It was a beautiful day for an outdoors celebration of APTA's announcement that TCAT was named the best small transit system in North America in the class of 1 million to 4 million passengers. Joe Turcotte emphasized TCAT's successful partnership with GADABOUT Transportation Services, Inc for providing ADA and non-ADA paratransit service in Tompkins County. Way2Go TCAT and GADABOUT!
Today, GADABOUT received the first three ARRA-funded buses delivered in Tompkins County. There are eight TCAT buses on order. When TCAT's two hybrid electric buses arrive in April, we'll do a PR blast with TCAT and GADABOUT.
Volunteer driver programs come in many flavors. GADABOUT has provided demand response service for seniors and people with disabilities since 1978. GADABOUT recruits volunteer drivers to drive paratransit buses. GADABOUT's volunteer drivers receive the same level of training and have the same qualifications as their paid drivers. They both have commercial driver licenses (CDL) and are qualified under NYS regulations (19-A regulations).
Other programs use volunteers who drive their personal car to deliver service. Drivers may receive some reimbursement for mileage. FISH uses this approach to provide rides to Medical appointments in Tompkins County.
RED is a new volunteer driver program to assist families with limited transportation choices in the Ithaca school district get to parent-teacher conferences. RED (stands for Retired Educators Drive) is looking to recruit drivers from the broader educational community (school district plus colleges) who are free to set their level of participation.
RSVP provides an organizational home for FISH and RED. Newly retired people are the prime market for volunteer recruitment. They can link up with volunteer driver programs through RSVP.
ITN-America provides a well developed model for a community volunteer driver program. Their main targets are elderly seniors and persons with disabilities who are no longer able to drive. Their business model includes a car donation program, time banking of volunteer hours, volunteers driving their own cars, 24/7 service availability and a sliding scale for paying for rides.
While volunteer programs require a high maintenance of effort to recruit and maintian a volunteer pool, they offer a way to leverage volunteer time to provide community mobility services. We can invest in tools to help volunteer driver programs operate better, but the real effort comes from dedicated volunteers who deliver valuable community transportation services.
Tompkins County is fortunate to have a diverse range of operators and programs providing transportation services to the public. A lot of planning and program development got done in 2009. Here are some highlights:
- The I-TCTC wrote a 20 year Long Range Transportation Plan for 2030, which included transportation scenarios for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- TCAT completed its five year Transit Development Plan and began its implementation for 2010.
- GADABOUT began brokering and providing additional trips for persons with disabilities under the federal New Freedom program.
- The County awarded a contract to Ithaca Dispatch to implement CityVan, a subscription van pilot program in the Towns of Newfield and Enfield.
- Cooperative Extension tested its Way2Go transportation education materials with front line staff of human service agencies and developed its marketing plan to launch Way2Go to the public in 2010.
- County Dept of Social Services provided train-the-trainer workshops on operating a travel training program for agencies who provide travel training to individuals.
- Ithaca Carshare added cars to its fleet and diversified its program offerings.
2010 starts with the rollout of new and improved transportation services in the County. TCAT is launching its revised routes and schedules on Jan 17 and is promoting its new Tcard (fare card), which is now available. Cooperative Extension is busy with rolling out its Way2Go's website, to provide consumer information on all mobility alternatives in the county. The County's CityVan service, to reach unserved areas in Newfield and Enfield, will start in January. There is a coalition interested in promoting vanpooling and ridesharing services in 2010. Further, there is interest in increasing and nurturing volunteer driver programs in the County.
The big picture goals of these activities is for multiple public and private sector parties to continuously increase and improve transportation alternatives to the public as realistic alternatives to driving alone in a car, and to provide essential mobility for low-income persons, seniors and people with disabilities.
In a time of fiscal stress, coordination is key to address gaps in existing services and unmet needs, and to encourage new solutions. We need to revise the County's Coordinated Public Transit - Human Services Transportation Plan in 2010. Now is an opportune time for governments, agencies and operators to reassess, from the ground up, how transportation can be provided in a more cost-effective manner. I invite interested parties to work together on planning for coordinated transportation services this year and in the future.
Dwight Mengel works in the Tompkins County Department of Social Services as its Chief Transportation Planner.