Impact Feature Issue on Meeting Transportation Needs of Youth and Adults with Developmental Disabilities
Partnering to Ensure Access: Florida's Transportation Disadvantaged Program
It’s brisk, sunny morning in rural northeast Florida. A young lady is waiting by her door. She is excited and nervous at the same time. “This is it,” she says out loud and her mother gives her a kiss good-bye. A bus pulls up and a friendly driver meets her halfway up the sidewalk. “Hello,” says the uniformed man as he greets the young lady, “you must be Charlotte.” “I am,” she replies, “and this is my first day of work.” “Charlotte” is a young woman with a developmental disability who is starting a job at a local grocery store. In many places, a trip such as this would simply not be possible as there is limited to no funding for employment trips. But, here in Florida, her trip is being paid for by the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged with a funding source that is designed just for trips like Charlotte’s that no other state or federal agency will pay for, trips that are desperately needed to keep individuals independent and self-sufficient.
The State of Florida is known not only for its sunny weather and beautiful beaches; it’s also known as one of the leaders in the arena of coordination of human services transportation. Florida began the Transportation Disadvantaged Program in 1979 with a legislative mandate to coordinate all social service transportation through one local, county-wide entity. It seemed like an impossible task, but the Coordinating Council on the Transportation Disadvantaged, the predecessor of the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged, took on this challenge and rose to the occasion.
To commence the early stages of coordination, the Coordinating Council began contacting transportation providers, local planners, agency administrators, advocacy groups and client users in each county to assess the level of interest and capability in coordinating human service transportation. Some early conclusions of the input that the Coordinating Council received some 26 years ago still ring true today in many parts of the nation (Coordinating Council on the Transportation Disadvantaged, 1980):
- Reliable and moderately priced transportation is a major concern to elderly, disabled, and low income citizens.
- Rural citizens have little to no options, yet cannot afford to live in areas where adequate transportation services are available.
- Social service agencies are providing commendable but often cost-inefficient transportation for agency clients.
- Elderly, disabled and low income citizens who are not agency clients are striving to be self-sufficient, but have severe transportation problems, including inordinate costs and scarcity of transportation services.
- There appear to be no insurmountable federal barriers hindering a more efficient use of social service transportation resources. Most impediments were embodied in pragmatic state agency administrative dictates and reluctance of local affiliates to share “hard-earned” transportation resources.
- The amount of federal and state funds expended for disadvantaged client transportation is largely unknown.
These problems were systematically addressed in Florida, with the primary objectives being to reduce actual expenditures, increase the amount of services, improve the use of resources, and improve the provision of services. The Coordinating Council began drafting rules to implement strategies to address these challenges. After the language was drafted, the Coordinating Council conducted further public hearings and held workshops around the state to take input. Many consumer groups, including those that represent individuals with disabilities, attended these meetings and provided valuable testimony. Many of the facilities that serve people with disabilities had serious reservations about the ability of the coordinated transportation system to deliver quality services at reasonable costs. There was also a reluctance to share the vehicles with other types of transportation disadvantaged citizens. In addition, the reporting requirements were deemed unnecessary by this group (Coordinating Council on the Transportation Disadvantaged, 1980).
Even with these hesitations, some initial successes of the coordinated efforts in Florida were actually seen first by the facilities that serve individuals with disabilities, in particular, the utilization of a joint-use school bus program. This program allowed transportation providers the use of school buses during the day when they sat idle at the school yard. One facility in Hamilton County reported receiving equivalent service for approximately $10,000 less in 1980-1981, and was able to bring more individuals with disabilities into their site for training. An ARC center in Volusia County estimated their transportation costs were reduced by $6,000 and reported an energy conservation of 7,200 gallons of gasoline during the reporting year (Coordinating Council on the Transportation Disadvantaged, 1980).
This was just the beginning of a strong relationship between programs that serve individuals with disabilities and the coordinated transportation program in Florida. Since 1979, the Transportation Disadvantaged Program has grown rapidly. Each county in Florida now has a community transportation coordinator (CTC) whose charge it is to ensure transportation services are provided in a safe, effective, and efficient manner. This CTC is to be aware of all transportation services occurring in their respective service area to persons who are “transportation disadvantaged” as defined in 427.011(1), Florida Statutes:
Transportation disadvantaged means those persons who because of physical or mental disability, income status, or age are unable to transport themselves or to purchase transportation and are, therefore, dependent upon others to obtain access to health care, employment, education, shopping, social activities, or other life-sustaining activities, or children who are handicapped or high-risk or at-risk ...
The CTC may provide all of the transportation services to facilities that serve persons with disabilities, or the CTC may simply have a coordination contract with the facility that provides direct care to consumers and has its own vehicles. The coordination contract is intended to be a way for the CTC to ensure that these facilities that are providing transportation on their own meet certain standards, as specified in policy. Also, the contract requires minimum reporting standards to ensure certain data is consistently reported and collected.
The data collection is indeed an important part of the accountability process. Over the years, data showed there was a significant number of riders being denied services due to lack of funding for a particular trip. This glaring lack of accessibility needed to be addressed. Rural areas were particularly at a disadvantage when it came to affordable transportation options. In an effort to address this unmet need, the Florida legislature created the Transportation Disadvantaged Trust Fund in 1989. The Legislature approved an additional 50 cent fee on each vehicle registration, with the exception of motorcycles and trucks over 5,000 pounds. This resulted in $8 million being available for persons who were transportation disadvantaged and qualified for transportation services, but had individual trips with no funding source. An example is an individual with a disability who uses transportation to go to a training site, but has no funding to access a trip to a local retail store. The Transportation Disadvantaged Trust Fund assists these riders in their need to live a quality of life that most other Floridians take for granted. Over the past 15 years the legislature has increased this trust fund to now equal a total of $38 million. Statewide groups that advocate for individuals with disabilities have assisted in the education of the legislature to increase this trust fund. In rural counties, this additional funding fills an immediate need. Citizens can now obtain access to much-needed activities that were always restricted before. In urban areas, this funding fills the void for services that fall outside of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) corridor. Additional services may be provided due to the funding the legislature has provided and the improved transportation system the coordinated program has created. The urban counties can consolidate resources better to ensure persons with disabilities, and others, receive more services. In addition, the urban areas can provide cost-saving techniques, such as offering a Medicaid Bus Pass to a user rather than picking the rider up at their door, to ensure even more services can be provided to those who most need assistance.
The most interesting phenomenon has occurred in the suburban areas of Florida. The coordinated transportation program has really been the impetus for future transit corridors. The systems that began coordinating human services transportation in many small urban counties have blossomed into creating small transit systems in their communities, further enhancing transportation mobility. Florida now has 23 transit systems, and most of the smaller ones are now being operated by designated CTCs.
Even with all of these improvements to the transportation systems in Florida, unmet need is still evident. As shown in the most recent reporting period (Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged, 2005), a total of 682,000 trips were not provided to transportation disadvantaged persons in fiscal year 2004 due to lack of funding, which could result in no driver or vehicle availability. The good news is that 56 million trips were provided in Florida for persons who are transportation disadvantaged and must rely on someone else to assist with their transportation needs. Persons with disabilities account for 57% of all trips provided in the state.
Both transportation professionals and advocates for persons with disabilities have successfully joined together in Florida to form a partnership to ensure all transportation disadvantaged persons have access to safe, reliable and quality transportation services. By improving the mobility of persons with disabilities, the lives of all Floridians are improved.
Coordinating Council on the Transportation Disadvantaged. (1980). Transportation and you: Annual report. Tallahassee, FL: Author.
Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged. (2005). 2004 annual performance report. Tallahassee, FL: Author.