Impact Feature Issue on Meeting Transportation Needs of Youth and Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Mobility Management: Maximizing Resources Through Collaboration


James McLary is principal with McLary Management, Dumfries, Virginia.

The need to improve mobility for people with disabilities has grown in recent years and all demographic indicators point to more growth in the near and long-term future. Coordination of services has been talked about, studied, and implemented for the last 20 years. A new concept has grown out of coordination, and is called coordinated mobility or mobility management (the two terms are used interchangeably). This model makes better use of existing resources, focusing on the needs of the customer rather than on the resources of the agency, studying all the possible solutions, and matching resources with demand. The Federal Transit Administration is working hard to make mobility management a reality and, with funds newly available through the Transportation Equity Act of 2005: Legacy for Users, can advance its implementation.

In a time when human service agencies are experiencing budget cuts, it is imperative that all transportation alternatives for those whom they serve be researched for appropriateness. Mobility management is a process that agencies can use to stretch their budgets, maintain service quality, and expand options that meet the needs of individuals with disabilities.

Why Move Toward Mobility Management?

Mobility management is an approach to transportation that maximizes resources through collaboration between transit providers and other agencies and organizations, with an emphasis on meeting user needs and providing alternatives to the single-occupant automobile. It uses all of the community resources to meet the demand for service, including not just public transit systems but also volunteers, private nonprofit organizations, and businesses such as taxi services.

There are four sociological phenomena that require human service and transportation professionals to work smart and collaborate with partners in meeting the demand for community transportation services:

  • Increased mobility on the part of individuals with disabilities. As the American with Disabilities Act matures, the number of people with disabilities fully accessing their communities is increasing. Through access to paratransit, accessible buses, and other options, people with disabilities have more opportunities for participation in social, employment, and other community activities. Increased mobility also allows for a multitude of community living arrangements, which puts more pressure on the transportation infrastructure. In other words, people with disabilities have the same rights as others to live where they want, and have increasing community resources supporting them to do so, which in turn creates increased demand for mobility options.
  • Rapid growth in the senior population. By the year 2025, 60 million Americans will be 65 or older. Our transportation network must be prepared to meet the needs of a rapidly changing America where in less than 20 years one in five people will be age 65 or older.
  • Reduced federal and state transportation funds. Public transit has never had the funds necessary to provide the level of service that is required to attract “choice” riders (i.e., individuals who have other options, such as cars, but choose to use public transit). Therefore transit managers have been frugal in their management style. This is most obvious in rural areas where it is not uncommon to see transit systems covering 10 counties with service provided every other day. This is not the way to attract choice riders or for that matter to attract people from their automobiles who should not be driving. In addition, diminishing federal and state funds have restricted service expansion while new federal mandates, the ADA in particular, have taken large amounts of transit system budgets (for example, in some places the demand response budget is larger than the fixed route budget). And while funding is being cut back, it has been reported that nearly 40% of the country’s “transit dependent population” lives in rural areas, and in many rural communities public and community transportation is limited or not available (CTAA, 2005).
  • Demand for accountability. There is an increasing demand for transportation providers to be accountable for their services. Human service policies and rules often hinder coordination of transportation services and use of approaches that would more efficiently meet transportation needs of the individuals. Who hasn’t heard the story of two agency vehicles pulling up to the same house and taking passengers to the same location? This duplication and inefficiency is in part due to the fact that 62 federal programs fund transportation services for people with disabilities, older adults, and people with lower incomes. In response, the White House issued the Executive Order on Human Service Transportation Coordination in February 2004, requiring those federal agencies to work together and coordinate the 62 transportation programs, improving use of resources. This executive order has led to a review of administrative and legislative barriers to coordination, and recommendations on how to remove them.

Why mobility management? First and foremost it is good business practice to maximize available resources. And second, as the population ages and as more persons with disabilities become increasingly involved in community activities, the demand for services will increase. To meet that growing demand with reduced budgets requires a new way of thinking.

How Does Mobility Management Work?

In the mobility management model, transportation agencies serve as mobility managers in their locales. They are attuned to both the macro environment – which includes land use planning, transportation planning, service provision, and utilization of existing resources – and the micro environment – which focuses on the needs of the individual transportation users. Overall, the mobility manager focuses on the needs of the customers and is charged to help identify transportation options for those who do not drive. By focusing on the individual, specific needs can be met and unnecessary services eliminated.

Most transportation planning has been conducted on the macro level; as one individual said, “That’s why it is called mass transit.” The federal agency that funds transit agencies was formerly called the Urban Mass Transit Administration, now Federal Transit Administration. In the past, many transit systems provided mainly fixed route service and missed the micro view. By also taking a micro view, mobility management focuses on individual needs by using all available resources and matching need with resources, infusing an individualized customer focus into transportation planning and services.

The use of technology, in conjunction with policy and procedural changes, can enhance mobility management. This technology is used by mobility managers in fulfilling their responsibilities, with the capital for its purchase funded by federal, state, and local government, and user fees paying the operating costs. Some of the technology that is available is as follows:

  • Centralized brokerages. Centralized call centers coordinate multiple programs and thus multiple needs. Most of the centralized brokers to date have coordinated single programs, but there is a trend to include multiple programs within the brokerage structure. Three states – North Carolina, Florida, and Washington – currently operate such call centers.
  • Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL). AVL allows dispatchers and call center brokers to know where vehicles are at all times, and thus make use of available capacity.
  • Trip-planning software. Installation of this software on transit system Web pages permits the individual user to map out routes and use transit information in a real-time environment.
  • Electronic fare collection. Multiple agencies can use the same fare media, such as a “smart card” which is like a credit card, and interchange vehicles, services, and fare collection policies through the electronic collection technology.

In addition to the uses of technology discussed above there are many other non-traditional approaches that have been available for many years, but have never been fully utilized. These include:

  • Volunteer driver programs. Many rural areas use volunteer driver programs for low density areas. These programs are very cost-effective and can fill a large gap in rural areas. The state of Washington has developed an extensive volunteer program and accompanying manual on how to implement such a program (Agency Council on Coordinated Transportation, 2005).
  • Hourly car rentals. In many urban areas, people will not use public transit because they “may” need their car for a mid-day meeting. The use of hourly car rentals meets that need. In such a program, the cars are located where transit riders can have easy access, such as in rail stations. The program allows users to have access after registering with the program without going through a rental agreement process. They are for short-term use, not daily or weekly, although they can be rented for longer periods.
  • Guaranteed ride home. Some areas have a guaranteed ride home program that allows the use of taxis, hourly rental cars, etc. to insure people can get home in an emergency if they use public transit to go to work.


A federal initiative called United We Ride is providing a framework for states and communities to use in assessing their degree of coordination in human service transportation and developing action plans to improve mobility. As creative people looking for ways to increase community access by persons with disabilities we must be advocates for transportation solutions, such as mobility management, that better serve the customer through service coordination. To advocate for transportation services that improve mobility for all – a universal transportation system – is the ultimate solution, and mobility management is a way to move in that direction.


  • Agency Council on Coordinated Transportation. (2005). Volunteer drivers: A guide to best practices. Retrieved from www.wsdot.wa.gov/Transit/Training/vdg/.

  • Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA). (2005). Retrieved from http://www.ctaa.org/ntrc/is_rural.asp.