Breaking Ground 106 - TDOT's Office of Mobility and Accessible TransportationBy Emily Duchac, Mobility and Accessible Transportation Supervisor, TN Department of Transportation
Emily Duchac is the Mobility and Accessible Transportation Supervisor at the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Emily works to improve mobility across the state, especially for seniors and people with disabilities.
The Office of Mobility and Accessible Transportation is a new office in the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), created in March 2020 by the Tennessee Accessible Transportation and Mobility Act. The Council was consulted as this bill was developed, and Council members testified about their transportation needs during hearings. The law created the first state office of accessible transportation in the nation. It required TDOT to develop a mission, five-year plan, and annual reports on mobility and accessible transportation in Tennessee. Our new office has now finished the first of those annual reports.
The mission of the Office of Mobility and Accessible Transportation is to provide resources and expertise for expanding and improving accessible transportation and mobility across the state. This mission has three key priorities:
- Shrinking Gaps in Access to Appropriate Transportation
- Establishing a Pathway to Integrated Policies and Cooperative Actions (in other words, helping all parts of the transportation system work together)
- Strengthening Transportation Independence for Tennesseans
- The mission and priorities are centered around making accessible transportation more widely available and easier to use. That will mean more Tennesseans – especially seniors and people with disabilities – can get where they need to go.
Mobility and Accessible Transportation Needs
First, TDOT needed to learn from Tennesseans with disabilities and seniors about their transportation needs. What challenges did they experience? TDOT engaged many kinds of groups that are interested in accessible transportation. Those included:
- Experts in aging, disability, and transportation.
- Tennesseans who use accessible transportation themselves or have family members who do.
A lot of people spoke up: 889 people answered our public survey, and 228 people came to focus groups to talk about transportation. During this process, we learned about transportation needs, and we saw that many Tennesseans want to improve accessible transportation across the state.
Tennessee has public transportation in all 95 counties, which helps many people get where they need to go. However, not everyone has access to transportation when and where they need it. Our research showed that barriers include issues of:
- Independence: Sometimes people need to reserve trips weeks in advance. They may need to use multiple transportation providers to get to their destination.
- Limited Weekend or Nighttime Options: People who need to travel at night or over the weekend may not be able to find a ride.
- Affordable Fares: Transportation costs are not always affordable, especially for on-demand transportation options such as taxis.
- First Mile/Last Mile: It can be difficult to get to and from a bus stop, especially in the outer parts of an urban area, where bus routes may be far away and options for transportation are limited.
- Infrastructure: Sidewalks, curb cuts, and even roadside shoulders are often missing or in poor condition. This keeps people from safely walking or using a wheelchair, or even from getting to a bus stop.
- Even when affordable public transportation is available at the right time and place, it may not meet every traveler’s needs. For example:
- Personal Assistance: Some people need personal assistance to travel, such as help getting in and out of their house or help at their destination. This is not always available.
- Specialized Services: There aren’t always specialized services available for the full range of travel needs, such as fully accessible vehicles or safe transportation for individuals with cognitive or behavioral disabilities.
When these transportation needs are not met, an otherwise independent person may not be able to get medical care, go to work, or do daily errands.
Other important issues we learned during the planning process include:
- Lack of information: People don’t always understand what transportation options are available, or how to schedule a ride.
- Limited Funding: The costs of providing transportation service, especially on-demand transportation service, keeps transportation providers from expanding services.
- Volunteer Transportation: Volunteer transportation services are available for older adults in many counties, but volunteer transportation services for people with disabilities are not widely available.
Strategic Plan and Next Steps
Our five-year Mobility and Accessible Transportation Strategic Plan will guide improvements across the state. This plan has five key goals:
- Expanded Access: Help local providers grow transportation services
- Service Solutions: Fix overlapping barriers to transportation
- Collaboration: Help groups who fund transportation to work together.
- Technology Solutions: Use technology to make transportation easier to use
- Communication: Help travelers know and access their transportation options
As we work to expand and improve transportation services, it’s important to keep the needs of seniors and people with disabilities in mind from the very beginning. The strategic plan goals will help us do that. The goals will guide transportation decisions across the state.
From here, we will continue to update the strategic plan. We will work with everyone involved to find the best solutions and improvements for mobility and accessible transportation in Tennessee.
The full strategic plan and report are available online at https://www.tn.gov/tdot/multimodal-transportation-resources/omat.html. For more information, please visit our website or contact Emily.Duchac@tn.gov.