For people unable to use a personal vehicle—older adults, persons with disabilities, persons with low incomes, and others—the lack of adequate transportation services is a barrier for fulfilling many basic needs, especially in rural areas. Transit services are too often fragmented and difficult for users to navigate. One way to improve these services and reduce operating costs is through coordination across agencies and providers.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs have completed the following projects focused on improving transportation coordination. The projects were sponsored by the Minnesota Council on Transportation Access, which promotes human services transportation coordination throughout the state.
Calculating the Benefits of Transportation Coordination
This project aimed to evaluate how well existing coordination strategies were working. Associate Professor Zhirong “Jerry” Zhao analyzed the economic costs and benefits of four case studies in Minnesota, specifically looking for demonstrated, measurable cost savings.
Findings indicated significant cost savings for three of the four programs studied. For example, SmartLink Transit, the public transit provider in Scott and Carver counties, began coordinating medical assistance travel in 2010 for an annual cost savings of $139,740.
In all four of the programs, the study also found additional benefits, such as greater productivity, expanded service coverage, growth in transit ridership, or improved service quality. “When agencies adopt methods to coordinate, this creates potential for reinvesting dollars or resources into other parts of a transportation service, thus improving the overall transportation system available to the public,” Zhao says.
Vehicle Sharing: Identifying Barriers and Solutions
Vehicle-sharing arrangements, which involve independent organizations sharing the same private transportation resources, can allow human services providers (HSPs) to save money and expand their transit services. However, in spite of its benefits, vehicle sharing is an underused resource.
In an effort to understand why more vehicle sharing isn’t taking place among Minnesota HSPs, researchers Frank Douma and Thomas Garry investigated the most common barriers to vehicle sharing. They also identified solutions that could help address these barriers and promote more widespread use of vehicle sharing.
They found that many of the most common barriers were related to the high cost of acquiring information about vehicle sharing. Suggested efforts to lower these costs include providing user-friendly guidance documents and training on the “how to” of vehicle sharing and creating a website or structured forum allowing HSPs to share information.
Coordinating Non-Emergency Medical Transportation
Under Minnesota’s Medical Assistance (MA) program, Minnesota counties are responsible for providing transportation assistance to MA recipients. This assistance is called non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT).
In this project, Douma and Garry investigated how Minnesota counties are using transportation coordinators to provide and administer NEMT services in an effort to boost information sharing and improve NEMT coordination.
Results show that using a coordinator helped counties increase the efficiency of their NEMT delivery by centralizing.