Given the important role that mobility managers play in addressing the challenges that riders face when accessing transportation, it should come as no surprise that non-transportation agencies across the U.S. are working to embed mobility-focused professionals in their ranks.
Mobility management relies upon an innovative, community-centric vision of transportation—one that utilizes the best of public transit services, private operators, and other providers—to meet the needs of riders. By improving the accessibility, effectiveness, and reach of existing transit solutions, mobility managers and transit staffers who oversee this type of work can provide riders with the transportation options that best meet their needs.
Increasingly, mobility management is becoming more important in non-transportation contexts, with mobility managers helping to fill gaps in existing services across communities and social services entities—particularly for low-income individuals, older adults, and those with disabilities. These mobility professionals are simultaneously providing critical transit solutions, while also helping to strengthen the wraparound services that many people depend upon to live their lives.
Connecting communities with mobility solutions
In southwestern Ohio, mobility managers affiliated with local counties are playing a vital role in the administration of a center dedicated to resolving residents’ transportation barriers. Launched last year, the Region 8 Mobility Solution Center (R8MSC) is based in Perry County and serves as a transportation access hub for the eight-county region.
The goal of R8MSC is to provide local residents with a one-call/one-click center to streamline their transportation needs, allowing individuals across the covered counties to receive access to travel or ride solutions in their own communities and to neighboring areas. Residents can call the center for transportation assistance, and then they will be connected with a mobility solution that will get them to their required destination.
Lisa Leckrone, the mobility manager for Perry County, said the rural nature of the eight covered counties allows R8MSC to fill a critical gap in existing transportation services. Whether it’s taking residents to medical appointments, giving them access to the grocery store, or bringing them to nearby COVID vaccination clinics, the center collaborates with local agencies—including health departments, senior services, and existing public transportation entities—to take people where they need to go.
“We don’t limit the avenues we take to resolve a transportation issue,” Leckrone said. “We start with public transportation and then work out from there. We take into consideration what’s available in our county, what’s available in the neighboring counties, and who can help us out by providing this ride even though the person might reside in a county that’s not served by public transit.”
While R8MSC does not directly provide rides, it works with public transit services, independent contractors, HMOs, and other transit entities that can assist riders in need of transport. And the mobility managers in the region play a vital role in the center’s operation, helping to streamline requests for specific counties. There are currently five mobility managers across the region’s eight counties, and Leckrone said the goal is to have at least one mobility manager in each county to help coordinate services with the center and provide residents with more direct access to transit services.
Beyond providing travel assistance and ride solutions, the center helps address other gaps in access to life sustaining resources across the region. Leckrone said part of the reason R8MSC is not simply a call center for mobility services is that its reach extends beyond just connecting people with transportation.
“If we have a customer who calls and asks us to take them to the food pantry next week, what are they really telling us?” Leckrone said. “They’re saying they don’t have enough food to last them the entire month. So we can ask them if they’ve ever applied for food assistance, and if they haven’t then we can get that done over the phone. So we can also provide guidance to help people living on fixed incomes or below the poverty line access other services as well.”
Providing older adults with transportation services
Although senior citizens depend upon reliable transportation to buy food, access medical care, and enjoy social activities, many of these older adults—especially those who are disabled, on fixed incomes, or are no longer able to drive—are severely restricted by a lack of accessible transit services.
To overcome some of these barriers, agencies focused on the well-being of older Americans are working to incorporate mobility management solutions into their services. In Virginia, several of the commonwealth’s local Area Agencies on Aging are expanding out their transportation programs through the leadership of mobility managers and coordinators.
Mandy Folman, mobility manager for the Southern Area Agency On Aging—which serves the rural counties of Franklin, Patrick Henry and Pittsylvania, as well as the cities of Danville and Martinsville in southern Virginia—said that the work she does really helps the region’s seniors access the care and services that they need. She currently coordinates three transportation programs for the agency: a transportation voucher program that lets clients pay for trips with private providers; a volunteer driver program primarily focused on transporting seniors who have out-of-town medical visits; and a bus service that transports older veterans to the two local Veterans Affairs medical centers.
“As the mobility manager, I try to stay aware of all the transportation services available in our area and try to find solutions for any gaps in services,” Folman said. “Relationships are very important for us, so connecting with all of the local transportation and non-transportation related services is key. And it works both ways, because these organizations appreciate the work we do and will do whatever they can to help us as well.”
Chris Blankenship, who serves as the mobility and med-ride program coordinator for the New River Valley Agency on Aging–which serves the rural counties of Giles, Floyd, Pulaski, and Montgomery, as well as the city of Radford in the southwestern corner of Virginia–is a critical resource for local seniors who need access to food, healthcare, and veterans services. With the dual role of coordinating mobility and med-ride services, Blankenship serves as a transportation resource for older adults while also helping to streamline the transportation of seniors to medical appointments and non-emergency health visits.
“It’s an essential service because we serve a mountainous and largely rural region that doesn’t have public transportation networks,” Blankenship said. “Some of these areas don’t even have cell service, so they depend upon us to get around.”
To ensure that local seniors know about the agency’s transportation programs, Blankenship works with community partners and other agencies across the New River Valley to promote their services, including leaving a hardcopy resource booklet about transportation in the region’s senior centers. And she has also launched several transportation programs to better meet the needs of older adults across the region, including a volunteer driver program that recruits veterans to transport older veterans to the Veterans Affairs medical center that is 60 miles away.
“A lot of medical specialists are far away from us, so I don’t know what these individuals would do without these services,” Blankenship said. “So it’s incredibly rewarding to help these people out when they have nowhere else to turn.”