RD193 - Assessment of Virginia’s Disability Services System: Transportation

Executive Summary:

Demand for alternatives to personal automobile transportation, which many people with disabilities and the elderly are unable to access, currently exceeds available resources. Virginia’s human services and transportation providers identified several transportation challenges in a recent survey by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, including funding limitations, the need for improved transportation coordination, physically inaccessible transportation services, and limited transportation options, particularly in rural regions (see Appendix 1). Regional Coordinated Human Services Mobility Plans have also identified similar unmet transportation needs which limit access to employment, community activities, and other services (see Appendix 2). Virginia will face even more transportation challenges and opportunities in the years ahead. Virginia’s aging population and increasing community integration of people with disabilities are placing increased strain on already overburdened public and human services transportation infrastructure and resources. Rapidly changing technology and the emergence of new transportation models are disrupting existing transportation services and systems. Funding declines loom in the very near future, calling into question the availability of sufficiently stable funding to maintain Virginia’s existing public transit systems, even as the demand for public and special needs transportation is increasing.

Efforts to address transportation barriers at the local, state, and federal level have too often been piecemeal, geographically limited, and insufficiently informed by the individuals who confront transportation barriers on a day-to-day basis. As Virginia’s population ages, and transportation-related technology and business models continue to rapidly evolve, it is more important than ever to develop interrelated statewide, regional, and local strategies for meeting the transportation needs of people with disabilities.

There are several areas where additional research is needed to adequately address the transportation needs of people with disabilities in the Commonwealth. More data is needed about the potential return on investments in fixed route accessibility improvements. There are also a number of recent and unfolding changes to transportation markets and transportation services, the effects of which will not be able to be adequately assessed at this point. New Medicaid Waiver funded transportation services, for example, are not yet implemented, and the implications of the rapid emergence of transportation network companies and other new transportation technologies and business practices are not yet fully known.

To ensure that the Commonwealth can meet the transportation needs of people with disabilities in the years ahead, the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities offers thirteen recommendations. While the primary purpose of this Assessment is to inform state-level policymakers, many of the decisions that affect transportation access are made at the local and regional level. It is important that local decision makers also receive input from their affected constituents, including people with disabilities and the elderly, about their transportation needs.

The Board’s thirteen recommendations are grouped into four main goals:

1. Provide stable long-term funding for public transportation and special needs transportation capital investments that accounts for projected increases in demand and need for expansion of transit availability

a. Provide sustainable state-level funding of public transit consistent with the recommendations of the Transit Capital Project Revenue Advisory Board (RAB) to not only maintain existing levels of funding, but also to accommodate needed expansion

b. Educate local and state decision makers about the unmet transportation needs of people with disabilities, the elderly, and other transportation-disadvantaged citizens and the importance of adequate local funding for public transportation infrastructure

c. Continue to seek flexibility from the federal government in Section 5310 funds to allow for the shifting of more funding to rural communities where the need for human services transportation capital investment is needed most

d. Define “disadvantaged populations" for the purposes of prioritizing transportation projects in the Commonwealth to include persons with disabilities

2. Improve transportation coordination and planning efforts in the Commonwealth

a. Reconvene an interagency transportation coordination council, which should include representatives of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT), Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS), Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS), Virginia Board for People with Disabilities (VBPD), the statewide non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) broker, and each of the managed care organizations (MCOs) with responsibility for providing NEMT services to Medicaid beneficiaries in the Commonwealth and/or the transportation brokers employed by these MCOs, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, as well as other relevant stakeholders

b. Educate individuals with disabilities and their families and caregivers about how to engage in the transportation planning process at the local level

c. Increase the number of people with disabilities and the agencies that serve people with disabilities represented on local transportation planning bodies

d. Collect and analyze claims and use data related to new Employment and Community Transportation Waiver service on an ongoing basis and make refinements as appropriate

3. Ensure that transportation network companies (TNCs) and other non-traditional transportation companies offer services that are accessible to people with disabilities

a. Establish a TNC Accessibility Task Force to analyze and advise on how to maximize accessibility and integrated transportation services for people with disabilities in the TNC market, make recommendations related to the regulation of TNCs who provide services to individuals with disabilities, and to study success of existing pilot programs and other efforts to provide transportation options for persons with disabilities

b. Establish state funding for innovative pilot programs in the Commonwealth that provide accessible transportation options to persons with disabilities using TNCs

c. Establish accessibility requirements for TNCs that are recipients of state funds, such as a minimum number of accessible vehicles, or a minimum percentage of a TNC fleet that must be accessible

4. Improve accessible bus stops and pedestrian infrastructure

a. VDOT and localities should continue and expand investment in increasing the accessibility of bus stops and pedestrian infrastructure, such as wide sidewalks, curb cuts, and pedestrian signals that are accessible to individuals with hearing and vision impairments

b. Local planning bodies should work with stakeholders to identify first and last mile barriers at bus stops in their localities and invest in the removal of those barriers