By Whitney E. Gray
Many individuals across the country would like to improve accessible transportation options in their communities but have had difficulty making progress on their own. When multiple people try separately to improve existing transportation options, success may be hard to achieve. Bringing numerous stakeholders with varying agendas together to build a strong coalition with united goals, however, is an effective way for a community to create, advance or improve accessible transportation. The result: a more livable community for all.
Coalition-building with local leaders is a proven strategy to advancing accessible transportation, and Easter Seals Project ACTION (Accessible Community Transportation in Our Nation) has helped facilitate the success of many coalitions through its Accessible Transportation Coalitions Initiative (ATCI). Beginning with a two-day event, ATCI is a one-year process designed to support systems change activities to improve accessible transportation options for people with disabilities in local communities. Through a rigorous application process, Project ACTION selects 10 teams each year to participate in this initiative, and after much hard work those teams have found success.
New Coalition Establishes Goals
In August, Project ACTION staff traveled to Lee County, S.C., to meet with a new ATCI group. The 38-member team represented a range of community interests, including the Santee Wateree Regional Transit Authority, the Santee-Lynches Regional Council of Governments, and several transit advocates representing people with disabilities and older adults. Coalition members discussed creative solutions for funding public transportation and ways of changing perceptions of public transit in a region currently without it.
The coalition assembled for the two-day ATCI event was born out of a local Transit Task force, which originated as a Quality of Life Committee. The evolution of the group speaks to its vision of public transportation as a means of enhancing access for all residents while strengthening economic development and helping the environment. The coalition sees accessible transportation’s potential to increase job opportunities in the county, help residents with mobility limitations to live more independently, and turn a rural area into a more livable community.
Established Team Sees Creation of New Transportation Office
The 2003 team from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) recently helped accomplished a significant milestone — the creation of a transportation office. The CNMI team took part in ATCI’s earlier version, the Mobility Planning Services Institute, in which teams from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C. After many years of advocacy, CNMI has finally established its first transportation office called the Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority. On May 27, the Honorable Benigno R. Fitial signed HB. 17-43 (now PL. 17-43) into law thereby establishing the Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority within the Office of the Governor, affirmed and officially established the Office on August 11, and concurrently appointed Thomas J. Camacho, a member of the CNMI team, as his Special Assistant for Public Transportation.
In addition to establishing the first transit authority office, PL. 17-43 and the Governor's Memorandum re-designated the FTA Consolidated Formula grants from the CNMI Public School System to the new Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority. The Saipan Call-a-Ride Transportation Services for People with Disabilities and the Elderly has been privatized, as well, and continues to be in demand. This service is also recognized as the ADA Paratransit System that will complement CNMI’s future public transportation system or fixed-route system.
The work of these teams is a testament to the strength of coalitions. To learn more about other ATCI teams, download Project ACTION’s "Mobility Planning Services Retrospective: Celebrating Ten Years of Expanded Accessible Transportation Options in Our Communities." Available at www.projectaction.org, this new retrospective highlights the work of a sampling of teams from 2001 to 2010 and concludes with several of the lessons Project ACTION learned from them.
If your community is ready to create solutions for accessible transportation challenges and engage local leaders in the process, start your application for 2012 ATCI online at www.easterseals.com/ATCI.
For questions about ATCI and the application process, contact Project ACTION’s training manager, Donna Smith, at (800) 659-6428 or ATCI@easterseals.com.
Whitney E. Gray is an Information Specialist at Easter Seals Project ACTION.