New Mobility Managers: An Introduction – Part 2

Author: Amber Simmons

Published: January 16, 2020

Ithaca Paratransit Bus
Ithaca, NY's paratransit & elderly mobility service, Gadabout, out in action
Amber Simmons, Regional Transportation Educator for Move Together NY (a program of Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County) has produced an introduction of mobility management for the Mobility Lines blog. Building on years of mobility management experience, New Mobility Managers: An Introduction, provides an initiation of mobility management for new practitioners in the field. This is Part 2 of a two-part blog. The previous posting was on what it means to be a mobility manager. This post will include some useful resources as well as some practical “how-tos” of the job.

Resources

You don’t have to know everything; you have to know where to find everything. There are more resources that there used to be and resources about training, online references, list-serves about what’s being tried, what happened when they tried it, what worked and what fell flat are now easily referenced.  Mobility managers share, it’s part of their DNA, so ideas and best practices are up for grabs.  The best part is you’re never alone; you just need to know where to look.

Depending on where you’re from, the resources may differ, but a great place to start is the National Center for Mobility Management’s website, and I’m not just saying that because this is their blog.  You need a launch pad, and if you’re not sure where to launch from, the site gives you many resources and ideas of where programs are located throughout the country.

You’re also welcome to check out the Move Together NY site.  Although the resource is designed to support mobility management practitioners in parts of New York State, there are resources and guides you may find useful for your position and for your programs.

Get to Know your Community

You may already be familiar and engrained within your community, but it’s important to understand your audience.  For instance, if your background is in business, you may be more in tune with employers or the Chamber of Commerce.  This is a huge benefit, but you may not be aware of the non-profit and human services of your community.  In almost all cases, non-profits and government agencies will be a focus of your efforts due to their involvement with transportation disadvantaged populations.  You may have transit experience, but as a colleague once said (who had 15+ years of transit experience), “I thought I knew about transportation needs, until I went to work for DSS (Dept. of Social Services)”.

Therefore, when you begin your journey into mobility management, you will want to introduce yourself to as wide a swath of the community as possible.

The most important part of this exercise is to learn who the stakeholders are, what services they provide and most importantly how you may be able to help them.

When introducing yourself to community stakeholders, it is not an introductory sales pitch about the things you can or hope to do in the community.  Stakeholders need to know you’re interested in them and learning about their needs. The stakeholders need to get to know you before they will trust you and before you can establish a relationship. This takes time, sometimes a year, so don’t get frustrated. 

Who are the stakeholders?  Again, it will vary by community, but here’s a general list of groups to get you started:

  • Human Service Committees (sometimes go by various other names)
  • Transit meetings (riders’ advisory, providers’ networks, coordinated transportation meetings)
  • Aging and people with disabilities service committees
  • Chamber of Commerce Events/Meetings
  • Veteran Organizations
  • Healthcare organizations or collaborative
  • Planning Departments
  • Employment services

To get involved identify a Director or known liaison and ask some questions about existing groups that you may be able to be involved with or learn from.

The DNA of Mobility Management-Networking and Sharing

One important fact to remember is, you are not alone.  Mobility Managers have a culture which includes sharing projects, best practices, what has worked and what either didn’t work at all, or what they would change about a solution they tried.  It is important for you to get to know who your neighboring Mobility Managers are and to participate in their meetings.

Ideally, if programs exist around you, participate in all neighboring county’s Coordinated Transportation Meetings or mobility management meetings.  Attend national conventions and take advantage of all possible learning opportunities such as those presented by Community Transportation Association of America (such as CTAA’s 2020 EXPO) and other training provided by Rutgers, National Transit Institute (NTI).

Programming: when to Create, Collaborate or Reinvent the wheel

Once you become familiar with the happenings in your community, Mobility Managers seek to address community unmet transportation needs.  Your influence or decisions may impact transportation options within your community. Some needs you may find or initiatives you may want:

  • A new service
  • Coordination between services
  • Collaboration with other agencies and services
  • Innovation with a totally new program/service

The first thing to remember, is do your homework.  You do not want to reinvent the wheel and as innovative as you think your idea is, it’s likely to have been done elsewhere.  Look for similar state or national projects. You may be able to adjust your program and learn from the struggles of others to improve your iteration of a program or idea.

You need to understand the facts surrounding a need and if possible, the political environment:

  • A comprehensive knowledge of transportation resources in the area;
  • An understanding of current and potential funding sources;
  • Knowledge of customer eligibility criteria for specialized transportation services; and
  • Basic knowledge of how transportation systems function.
  • Has the community government (County, MPO, City, etc.) been supportive of transportation projects or what type of information will you need to provide to convince the governing bodies that the proposed project is worthwhile.

Tread Lightly

Non-profits, small volunteer groups, all serve niche markets and can be territorial.  They struggle to support what they have and don’t want to be lost or consumed in the interest of “efficiency”.  Respect their culture and offer to work with them, on their terms.  However, if your program is providing them some funding, it’s entirely reasonable to have reportables and expectations.  But if they are not willing or able to provide the reportables, perhaps consider working with them at a different level that does not include financial support.

Mobility management is many times a patchwork of delicately stitched programs that come together to provide the quilt of transportation options for the community.

Reinventing the Wheel

There will come a time that even with research, meetings, and trying to partner with other similar programs, it’s discovered that the solution just won’t work and it’s time to make a better wheel that works for your community.

When that time comes, consider the following:

  • Document the steps you take to develop the solution
  • Whenever possible, create templates that will help others replicate the work or assist your predecessor should you change positions
  • Create benchmark evaluation times.  For instance, build in a 6 month, 1 year and 2-year evaluation period to help determine program success or areas to improve.
  • When you achieve success, share it with other mobility programs!  Your solution, could be another community’s solution.

Conclusion

The answer for new mobility managers is that there are no cookie cutter answers.  Each community will need different services and will look to you to solve the gaps in transportation services.

Rely on your peers, make connections and innovate with both the immediate and future needs of your community in mind.  For more information, check out Move Together NY and NCMM.

 

Image Credit : “Gadabout Bus in snow” by mhaithaca

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).