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

United We Ride: A National Initiative to Coordinate Human Service Transportation


Bryna Helfer is Program Manager, Human Service Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, Washington, DC.

“I feel like I am independent,” “I don’t need to depend on my mom and dad to take me places,” and “Now I can ride the bus to get to my job and to the movies with my friends.” These are some of the reactions from youth and adults with disabilities who have gained independence and mobility due to the simple fact that they can now get a ride to work, school, the mall or the library.

Transportation matters. Independence and opportunity begin with dependable transportation. This is particularly true for individuals with disabilities who rely on an array of community transportation services available across the nation to achieve autonomy. Yet, the National Organization on Disability (NOD, 2002) has reported that 30% of adults with disabilities cite inadequate transportation as a problem in their daily lives. In contrast, only 10% of nondisabled adults report the same.

Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, the accessibility of public transportation has increased significantly. In addition to services provided through public transportation agencies, the General Accountability Office (GAO, 2003) found that there are 62 federal programs that support transportation services for individuals with disabilities, older adults, youth, and individuals with lower incomes. These programs are funded by the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and others. In addition, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Rehabilitation Services, and the Medicaid Waiver programs all include provisions for developing skills necessary for independent living, which includes travel training and safe community mobility. 

Preparing youth and adults with disabilities to travel independently begins with understanding transportation options. Each community offers a different family of transportation services that can be matched with an individual’s needs and abilities. These transportation services may include but are not limited to driving, fixed route buses (buses that start and stop at designated places on a pre-announced schedule), paratransit or other shared ride services, taxicabs, and volunteer driver programs. Given that every individual and every community is different, the creation of a seamless, coordinated accessible transportation network in which people know how to access these services sometimes remains a challenge. Too often individuals and their families are unaware of the array of programs and services that operate, and how to access them.

The challenge of coordinating transportation services so that individuals with disabilities have an easier time accessing transportation in their communities is one that is being addressed by the federal government. As a result of an Executive Order issued by President Bush in 2004, the Federal Interagency Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (CCAM) has launched United We Ride (UWR). United We Ride is an initiative that includes 11 federal departments working together to simplify access, reduce duplication, and enhance cost efficiencies in community human service transportation.

In its Report to the President (CCAM, 2005a), the CCAM outlines accomplishments over the past year, collective actions of the council, and each CCAM member’s action plan to enhance human service transportation for older adults, individuals with disabilities of all ages, and people with lower incomes. The report also outlines five key recommendations that are targeted to enhance community initiatives in order to build coordinated services at the state and local levels. Those five key recommendations, excerpted from the report, are:

  • Recommendation 1 – Coordinated Transportation Planning: In order to effectively promote the development and delivery of coordinated transportation services, the CCAM recommends that the Administration seek mechanisms (statutory, regulatory, or administrative) to require participation in a community transportation planning process for human service transportation programs. By promoting shared responsibility for transportation services, joint planning promises increased cost-effectiveness and increased access for consumers by eliminating duplicative efforts and wasted resources....
  • Recommendation 2 – Vehicle Sharing: In order to reduce duplicate transportation services as well as idle time for drivers and vehicles, the CCAM recommends that vehicles used in human service transportation be made available to other federally funded programs, consistent with the Common Grant Rule (OMB Circular A-102). Within the next year, each federal agency should review and modify their policies and procedures to proactively promote the sharing of vehicles with recipients and sub-recipients of other federal programs. Existing flexibility in the permitted uses of federally funded equipment such as buses and/or vans can make more transportation available to more federally funded human service programs without fundamental changes in programs....
  • Recommendation 3 – Cost Allocation: In order to ensure that adequate resources are available for transportation services for persons with disabilities, older adults and individuals with lower incomes, and to encourage the shared use of vehicles and existing public transportation services, the CCAM recommends where statutorily permitted that standard cost allocation principles for transportation be developed and endorsed by federal human service and transportation agencies...The development of a standardized methodology built on accepted cost allocation principles would encourage local agencies to share transportation vehicles and resources....
  • Recommendation 4 – Reporting and Evaluation: The Council recommends the development of a method to permit cross agency analysis of the effectiveness, efficiency, and progress of States, communities, and tribes toward improved coordination of transportation programs, as evidenced by improvements in the overall quality and cost-effectiveness of human service transportation....
  • Recommendation 5 – Consolidated Access Transportation Demonstration Program: In order to test the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of a new approach to meeting the full range of transportation needs of persons with disabilities, older adults and individuals with lower incomes, the CCAM recommends that statutory authority be sought to permit the development of 10 to 12 demonstration projects in metropolitan, rural and/or tribal areas. In these demonstration projects, a single transportation system (not necessarily a single provider) financed through a consolidated federally funded stream would meet the total needs of transportation-disadvantaged populations....

To carry out these recommendations, the CCAM is implementing United We Ride, a national initiative in human service transportation. United We Ride is addressing the challenge of simplifying access, reducing duplication, and enhancing cost effectiveness in the following ways (CCAM, 2005a):

  • Educate human service agencies, transportation providers, consumers and policymakers on the benefits of transportation coordination.
  • Provide tools to help states and communities coordinate their transportation resources.
  • Analyze the regulatory barriers to coordination and identify solutions to overcome the limitations.
  • Encourage comprehensive transportation service planning with active participation of people with disabilities, seniors, and people with low incomes.
  • Identify and share successful strategies and solutions with states and communities.
  • Coordinate the provision of technical assistance from a variety of specialists including Easter Seals Project ACTION and others.

On the Web site of United We Ride is extensive information and resources for bringing together stakeholders at local and state levels to improve coordination of transportation services. Resources include:

  • State and Federal Policy. Information on each of the 62 federal programs supporting transportation services.
  • Framework for Action: Building the Fully Coordinated Transportation System. A tool for use at community and state levels to begin the dialog to improve coordinated services.
  • Help Along the Way. A technical assistance program for states and communities in development and delivery of coordinated human service transportation.
  • Mobility Management Tools. Strategies for meeting consumer needs and building capacity in communities.

While the federal government is working to address the key challenges to facilitate access for individuals and families who depend on transportation as a lifeline, it is also important to recognize that coordination must take place in every state and community across the country. This coordination must include consumers, advocates, transportation agencies, education and employment specialists, health care providers, and organizations providing disability related services. Communities across the country are convening taskforces to identify the challenges and address the opportunities to build coordinated community transportation systems.

As we support individuals with disabilities to identify where they are going to live, work, and play, we must also answer the question, “How will I get there?” The U.S. Department of Education has developed a comprehensive action plan to address the unique issues for children and youth with disabilities through special education, transition, rehabilitation services, and independent living centers (CCAM, 2005b). Together, as a nation, we can enhance the mobility of all Americans. United We Ride!


  • Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (CCAM). (2005a). Report to the President: Human service transportation coordination, executive order 13330. Retrieved from http://www.unitedweride.gov/1_866_ENG_HTML.htm
  • Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (CCAM). (2005b). Report to the President, human service transportation coordination executive order 13330. Retrieved from http://www.unitedweride.gov/1_866_ENG_HTML.htm#Appendix_5.
  • GAO. (2003). Transportation-disadvantaged populations: Some coordination efforts among programs providing transportation services but obstacles persist (No. GAO-03-697). Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov
  • National Organization on Disability. (2002). Harris survey of Americans with disabilities. Washington, D.C.: Author.