Researching Carseats: An Example of Mobility Management Technical Assistance in Massachusetts

  • Author: Rachel Fichtenbaum
  • Date: March 10, 2022
A Rides to Wellness operator in Flint, Michigan removes a carseat from the trunk in preparation for installing it to transport a child.
A Rides to Wellness operator in Flint, Michigan removes a carseat from the trunk in preparation for installing it to transport a child. Photo by Roxy Moreno, Rides to Wellness Community Liaison.

 

MassMobility is an initiative within the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) to support human service agencies and other organizations in expanding mobility for older adults, people with disabilities, and other consumers who lack access to transportation. As the EOHHS Mobility Manager, part of my role is to assist aging and disability service agencies, transportation providers, and others with designing and implementing new transportation services or mobility programming. For example, I have helped transit authorities develop travel training programs and have assisted organizations in developing volunteer driver programs. Recently, a community transportation provider asked me for assistance on a topic I was not familiar with: providing carseats for riders with children.

Jointly operated by the Town of Ware and the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corporation, the Quaboag Connector operates a demand-response public transportation service in ten relatively rural and low-income towns on the western edge of Central Massachusetts. Some riders are traveling with children, and because the Connector uses vans instead of full-sized buses, these young riders need carseats in order to ride safely. Originally, the Quaboag Connector asked riders to provide their own carseats and allowed them to store the carseats on the vehicle between dropoff and pickup so that the rider would not have to lug the carseat on their errand or to their medical appointment. However, due to a recent software upgrade that has increased systemwide efficiency – allowing the Connector to serve more riders – the vehicle dropping off the passenger is no longer likely to be the same one that will pick them up. Not wanting to saddle riders with carrying their carseats, the Connector reached out to MassMobility to research options.

Carseats and mobility management

I was excited to dive in and see what I could learn. This topic fit into my mission of promoting mobility management because the Connector was taking a person-centered approach by thinking about what would make the service work well for its riders. This research could also be useful information for services that primarily serve older adults and people with disabilities, as some older adults are the primary caretakers of their grandchildren, and some people with disabilities have children. In addition, the topic aligns with the national Whole Family Approach to Jobs initiative, which recognizes that to be successful, anti-poverty efforts need to support not only workers but also workers’ children.

Research and findings

I began by reaching out to local stakeholders, such as two Massachusetts-based providers that I knew provided employment transportation and specifically allowed riders to drop their children off at daycare on the way to work. I also contacted national partners, including the National Center for Mobility Management and the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center. I posted in the Mobility Management Connections discussion forum. Through this research, I found four different ways that transportation providers approach carseats:

  1. The first approach puts full responsibility on riders to provide the carseat, install the carseat, and take the carseat with them.
  2. A second approach puts most of the responsibility on the rider, but allows the driver to offer limited assistance. For example, Los Angeles paratransit drivers can assist with installing the carseat if the rider needs help, but the rider must provide their own carseat.
  3. In the third approach, the rider is allowed to leave their carseat on the vehicle between dropoff and pickup. These transportation providers try to make sure that riders who have carseats can get the same vehicle for dropoff and pickup, such as by making a note in their scheduling software.
  4. In the fourth approach, the transportation provider owns the carseats and provides them for riders who need them.

Regardless of their overall approach, some transportation providers offer some type of related support, such as hosting “carseat clinics” or safety trainings for the public on how to install carseats and/or collaborating with local law enforcement or other organizations that have funding to provide free carseats to families in need.

Tips for providing carseats

The fourth approach was most closely aligned with the interests of the Quaboag Connector, so I focused my research there. Here is what I learned from the programs I connected with:

  • Driver training is important. Drivers need to receive training on how to install the seats. One provider also trains drivers on how to secure children in carseats, even though this is the responsibility of the parents or guardians, so that the driver can offer verbal coaching if needed. The transportation provider also keeps track of the expiration date for all seats. Transportation providers that offer carseats feel that this is safer and less risky than having riders provide their own, because they know the carseats are not expired and are in good shape and they know the driver is trained on how to install the carseat. As Lori Lavery, Mobility Navigator at Rides to Wellness said, “The only way to know for sure how safe any seat is, is to know the seat’s history.”
  • Store the carseats where drivers can easily access them. Some transportation providers store the seats in the vehicles. For example, Rides to Wellness in Flint, Michigan stores one child seat and one infant seat in each vehicle. If a driver is going to need more than that, they can pick up extras at the garage. Some transportation providers store the seats in a maintenance facility where drivers have access. Calltakers make a note when riders will need a carseat so that the driver knows to get them before doing the trip. For example, calltakers may note the age of the child so the driver knows what size(s) to bring.
  • State policy can play a role. For example, the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) requires fixed-route and demand-response transportation providers to have one child safety seat and one booster seat for every five vehicles on the road (unless the vehicles have built-in safety seats). The cost of these safety seats is eligible for reimbursement from KDOT utilizing a combination of federal Section 5310 or 5311 funds and state funds.

Next steps

This research for the Quaboag Connector is a work in progress. Does your system provide carseats? Do you have additional tips to share? Please reach out to me at rachel.fichtenbaum@mass.gov.

We’d love to hear from you!

Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Kirby Wilhelm (wilhelm@ctaa.org).

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