With booming populations as well as increasing transit woes, like New York City’s subway “summer of hell”, crippling Los Angeles traffic, or crumbling bridges and highway overpasses, news topics covering public transportation tend to focus mainly on large urban areas, and so does funding. Yet there are millions of people who live outside these populous areas that have the same needs for reaching social services, but are even more removed from them.
Delmarva Community Services, Inc. (DCS), based in Cambridge, Maryland, serves as a model for similar dispersed, rural communities to examine in their effort to overcome such impediments and serve their more vulnerable residents. Santo Grande, who leads DCS, and Mary Handley, the organization’s mobility manager, have developed an exciting model for creative funding and programming efforts to serve communities in need around Maryland’s Eastern Shore and in Delaware. A key piece of their work is a focus on how to connect people to these resources with an array of mobility options that can help them thrive.
Grande and Handley have dedicated vast amounts of time and energy to finding new ways to connect people in need with services. Though it started as a human services agency, over the years their philosophy led them to also become the public transportation service for five of the counties it serves, providing more than 280,000 rides along more than 2 million service miles last year.
Skipping the Silos
A key factor in the success of DCS is that Grande and Handley are known for the creativity of their programming and they actively work with the community to identify needs and create solutions. Rather than let regulations define what they cannot do, they have learned to work within them to redefine what is possible. Even commonly perceived roadblocks – insurance limitations and mission creep – can be overcome with the right approach.
Their new One-Stop program is a great example of this approach. The organization views all community members as potential users of their transportation services, and therefore is able to tie in multiple sources of funding that on their own would focus only on specific populations. Due to this inclusive approach, this one-call center can serve any community member who falls within the fairly comprehensive range of funding streams, providing information, booking, and dispatching from DCS. This model allows DCS to centralize their efforts, avoid duplicative services, minimize gaps in coverage, and ensure that grant money is applied to the appropriate populations.
DCS also prioritizes community outreach given the expansive area their services cover. Handley and her team of mobility managers provide extensive services beyond the office to make sure as many people as possible are connected to DCS and other related services throughout the region.
The team of mobility managers each act as a kind of “case officer” and work with individual clients who are new to the DCS system to better understand their unique needs. DCS’ mobility managers perform site visits to gather information about the new rider, as well as their living situation, family life, and any other factors that may influence their overall mobility. Handley gives an example that there are many residences where the client can barely walk without oxygen, and their house lacks an accessible entrance. Having a first-hand view of this situation is vital to developing a plan that helps drivers understand how to reach and accommodate passengers and what to expect when working with them. This step of the process allows the DCS team to ensure the passenger reaches their destination safely, reliably, and comfortably.
DCS also focuses heavily on travel training for individuals who can utilize the organization’s fixed route public transit independently but are resistant to the idea for any number of reasons. There is still a stigma around using mass transportation instead of driving, and it can be intimidating to learn how to navigate one of these systems. Handley and her team accompany new passengers on as many trips as it takes to get them comfortable with the system, focusing on how to figure out schedules, paying the fare, and knowing where to go. The process empowers these new users to travel independently and get where they need to go in a way they otherwise couldn’t.
Rural transportation systems have unique needs and situations – no community is the same – so it can be difficult to connect people to whatever services do exist. DCS’ outreach efforts help them understand the specifics of the population they serve, and goes a long way in developing the right programs to get people where they need to go. This holistic approach to innovative programming has allowed DCS to develop such a unique mix and scope of services, and is worth examining to inform efforts elsewhere.
Image credit: Delmarva Community Services