Impact Feature Issue on Meeting Transportation Needs of Youth and Adults with Developmental Disabilities
Creating Rural Transportation in Maryland: Delmarva Community Services
Author Leon Uris in his novel The Haj uses an old Middle Eastern saying to describe how important something can be to people as “like water in the desert.” People with disabilities and elderly people, especially in rural areas, feel that way about transportation and how essential it is to daily life. Transportation to many individuals often is associated with futility. Many people with disabilities have often been left behind by transportation either figuratively or literally. When talking about transportation with them, a deep sense of sadness often overwhelms them. They are often left to ask, “Will it ever be here?”
Transportation, whether it is public transit or service agency transportation, is essential to the activities of daily living of people with disabilities. In many areas of the country, valiant efforts are made to get persons with disabilities to essential services that are program related, and the results are often mixed. And because the service sector usually has only enough resources to provide transportation to their prescribed services, what often is left out of the equation altogether for people with disabilities is transportation for life-enriching activities such as accessing public meetings, library services, movies, theatre, restaurants, and travel, as well as dating or maintaining relationships with their friends and family.
Recently at a public meeting to discuss future transportation services to be provided by our agency, Delmarva Community Services Inc., a young woman was in attendance with her son and her husband. She was the transportation recipient, there to advocate for herself. She had a progressive illness causing her to lose mobility. She could walk with the assistance of two canes but had to use a scooter when she was accessing transportation and her community. We talked for a while and attempted to reassure her that we would do everything possible to have dependable transportation services available. She wanted us to understand how important it was for her to have dependable transportation. One trip to the doctor’s office took her seven hours because of the new fixed route that had been devised by the current transportation provider. The trip was a 30-mile round trip to another town where the hospital was located. The transportation provider terminated the mid-day run that would have taken her home after her morning appointment and she had to wait at a local senior center until the afternoon route was ready to go. She is not a senior citizen. Throughout our conversation the heavy weight of futility filled the room as she attempted to tell her story. She wanted to be reassured that transportation would be available, she could count on it, and it would be dependable. Probably the underlying question never asked was were we being honest, were we truthful people? Maybe she wanted to be reassured or maybe she wanted to be there to test us, our sincerity. That meeting was important to her, especially to her peace of mind.
Delmarva’s Experience with Providing Transportation
Delmarva Community Services Inc. is a private, non-profit, multi-service agency dedicated to helping people who wish to maintain an independent lifestyle within the community. The agency was established in 1974 to offer persons with developmental disabilities an opportunity to expand horizons through education, training, and employment. It has grown to include a residential program that supports clients to live within the community supported by trained staff, respite care, adult day care programs, senior services, and operation of a county-wide transportation system. Delmarva is located in Cambridge, Maryland, on the rural eastern shore of the state in an area that is bordered by the Chesapeake Bay to the west and Delaware and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. This area is very large with an extremely small population.
Having grown up in Philadelphia, I used public transportation all my life. From childhood, my mother, who didn’t drive, would load us on the “23” Trolley or the “C” Bus on Broad Street and take us where we had to go. When I joined Delmarva in 1975 I was surprised to find that there wasn’t any form of public transportation in the community. In that year, Delmarva contracted with a local company that also owned school buses to provide daily transportation for its clients to and from the day center located in the basement of a local church. The family that owned the transportation company was invaluable in helping our agency to grow. They knew the community far better than I did and helped me think about what could be possible in providing transportation.
When I learned about the UMTA 16-B-2 capital program, now known as Section 5310, I began to write grants for capital equipment to expand Delmarva’s services into transportation services.
The family that owned the school bus company helped me plan trips, routes, and schedules that made sense, were efficient and economical, were not duplicative, and served our consumers. They also assisted me with my learning curve in getting to know the consumers because they had provided school bus service to many of these individuals. It was their knowledge of the area and people that showed me that it was possible to provide a successful deviated route system in a rural, often remote area.
Delmarva received our first wheelchair-lift equipped vehicle in 1977. It looked like an old milk truck. We received three other vehicles in 1978 and our journey into transit began. In 1984 we began providing Medical Assistance transportation, and then in 1986 began providing public transit through the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), including Jobs Access Reverse Commute (JARC). As of July 2005 we have a fleet of approximately 90 vehicles and are providing a variety of coordinated transportation services to five Eastern Shore counties. These services include fixed public routes for all residents of Cambridge, Maryland, an ADA complimentary service, a deviated daily route in the outlying areas of Dorchester county, many service-related trips for senior citizens to and from senior centers, and individual trips for seniors to shopping, hairdressers, banks, medical appointments and so forth on a demand response or 24-hour advance notice. We also provide extensive transportation to people with disabilities that includes service trips to and from day centers, medical day centers, vocational services, a sheltered workshop, and a local mental health day rehabilitation center, along with ADA services and demand response service when available.
Early on we learned that all services in rural Maryland had to be attached to transportation services, and that if we could not develop adequate transportation services we would provide inadequate service in other areas. Delmarva’s Board of Directors and I thus understood that we should commit as many resources to transportation services as possible. We formed partnerships with local non-profits, many of whom began to seek us out to provide their transportation services, and with county and city government, as well as the Maryland Transportation Administration. With perseverance we have shaped a large rural transit system that will provide almost 400,000 trips this year.
One key step in Delmarva’s growth as a transit leader in our community was development of a Transit Development Process/Plan (TDP) that recognized our agency as the lead transit agency for the county; as a result of the TDP we began to leverage local and state funding to build the transit system. Also essential was that we used a series of pubic hearings and satisfaction surveys to seek input from the community to help us develop and shape our system. This process continues annually and we also have an advisory group made up of consumers, staff (including drivers and dispatchers), and board members who meet quarterly to discuss transportation issues. Because transportation affects our rural counties so deeply, it truly is a lifeline. Our advisory committee realizes the importance of their mission and role, and without their input and the public process we could not be an effective organization. Transportation services are now sewn into the fabric of our service delivery system, the public conscience, and the community as a whole. However, we realize we must be vigilant because without vigilance it would be very easy to lose sight of our mission, which is independence for all residents of Dorchester county and the Delmarva Peninsula, and to leave consumers without the lifeline we have worked so hard to achieve.
We’ve found that providing transportation services in our rural setting, while resource intensive, is a way to ensure that individuals with disabilities and all the other residents of our county aren’t lacking in access to community transportation. To other agencies providing services to persons with disabilities that might be thinking of such a venture, we’d suggest the following considerations in addition to the steps outlined above:
- Develop a committee with as many stakeholders as possible. Even invite the nay-sayers, who may become your biggest supporters later.
- Set goals, exchange ideas, choose a leader, support that person, communicate openly and, above all, honestly and frequently.
- Put the resources of the various agencies on the table, and be willing to share them with other health and social service agencies.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks. Remember, everyone at the table has something to gain. No one has to lose.
There is no quick fix to cure the ills of community transportation across the country. Partnerships need to be forged. Cooperation and coordination will pave the way. It is time to break down barriers, get on board, start the engine, and move forward so individuals with disabilities will not be left behind, individuals such as Brenda Shimek (in photo at left), who describes the importance of Delmarva’s transportation services in this way:
My disabilities are arthritis, two knee replacements, one hip replacement, a broken left ankle that did not heal, and shortness of breath when I try to walk. Please know how much your bus transportation means to me. This service means a lot to me because I am able to get around to doctor’s appointments and shopping, even though I am disabled. Your drivers are very helpful and courteous at all times. Without this service I would be homebound. Thank you very much.