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‘Mobility for All’ initiative seeks to create one-stop shop for transportation access

Posted by on August 28th, 2018 at 11:10 am

A panel answered questions about the benefits of the program at a workshop held at Metro in June. From Right to left: Jan Campbell, Chair of the Special Transportation Fund Advisory Committee; Adrian Pearmine, DKS Associates; Bob Stacey, Oregon Metro Councilor District 6; Brenda Durbin, Director of Clackamas County Social Services; Julie Wilkie, Executive Director of Ride Connection.

“Right now we have a second-class transportation system for folks that have accessibility issues and it just plain isn’t fair.”
— Adrian Pearmine, DKS Associates.

Seniors and people living with a disability who need accessible transportation across the Portland region have dealt with a patchwork of inadequate services for years.

A new initiative called Mobility for All hopes to change that by creating a one-call, one-click regional transportation information system.

Today, many communities in the Portland Metro do not have accessible or frequent transit, requiring residents with special needs to reserve rides days in advance in order to get around. Service varies significantly in rural communities, and getting across the region through multiple service providers can be daunting. One of those options, TriMet’s privately operated LIFT paratransit service, was recently under fire at a Workers Rights Board hearing in May for inadequate scheduling systems and long wait times for riders among other complaints from employees and community members.

“Right now we have a second class transportation system for folks that have accessibility issues and it just plain isn’t fair,” said Adrian Pearmine, the National Director for Smart Cities and Connected Vehicles for DKS Associates.

One Call-One Click (OC/OC) systems, like 2-1-1, can help alleviate some of these issues by making it easier to coordinate information across multiple agencies to provide better service. Likewise, a single endpoint makes it easier for residents to plan their travel and find options that work better for them.

The mission statement of the initiative.

The new initiative focuses on creating a centralized database and call center for transit resources in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties. At the highest level of investment, the system could provide coordinated ride booking, dispatching and payment. Jan Campbell, Chair of the Special Transportation Fund Advisory Committee (STAFC), who can only use public transit because of her disability, is most excited about possible on-demand service.

Consultants Laura Keyes and Marion Denny presented their findings on implementing a One-Click One-Call system to a room full of volunteers, disability advocates, and policy makers at workshop in June. The research was funded by ODOT Region 1 STFAC who set aside $100,000 to research how technology could assist with transportation for older and disabled residents through Federal (FTA 5310) and Oregon Special Transportation Fund grants.

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From a presentation by Keyes Consulting.

Creating technology that is accessible to all is a key tenet of the system. The project manager, Kevin Chambers, who used to work for Ride Connection, a nonprofit transit service for disabled and senior residents, said that during his employment he was “constantly frustrated by how poor the technology tools are for serving people at the margins”.

Rebecca Miller, of Multnomah County Aging, Disability, and Veteran Services, said when the agency hosted listening sessions with over five hundred residents last year, transportation rose to the top. Non-English speaking residents were twice as likely to indicate transportation as an issue. For these reasons, a multilingual call center was identified as a must have.

Senior citizens, which grew to 13.6% of the Metro population in 2016, and non-seniors with disabilities, another 8.4% of the population in 2015, are less likely to own a computer, smartphone, or have access to the internet as their younger non-disabled neighbors, according to a 2016 Pew Research Study.

9-13% of our Metro population, up to 230,000 residents, could be users of the One Call-One Click service.

Put together, Keyes estimated that 9-13% of our Metro population, up to 230,000 residents, could be users of the One Call-One Click service.

And the need is growing. Oregon’s retirement population is growing faster than the national average. Turning in the car keys can be an isolating experience, particularly in more rural areas. Ride Connection, now in its 30th year, provided 500,000 rides last year to residents that needed door to door service, either directly or through the network of providers it supports. From 2014 to 2016, they saw a 28 percent increase in requested rides. Julie Wilkie, Executive Director of Ride Connection, pointed out they also turned down 40,000 trips. Coordinating information from multiple providers in the region could provide insights into our capacity and where future investments need to go.

The final report looked at programs that six other cities had initiated to coordinate multiple government and nonprofit services, and scoped different roll-out scenarios with different levels of service and cost. Tier 1 and 2, in the $110k-$175k range for development costs, would include leveraging open-source software to provide the central database and mobile app, and statistical tools and user feedback could be added with some customization. Tier 3 would provide the most service benefit, such as on-demand rides, and would need around $1 million in investments to develop.

Ongoing costs of $260,000 to $380,000 per year needed to maintain the service will be harder to find. However, according to Adrian Pearmine, “The kind of numbers that we were looking at earlier from the consulting team are a tiny drop in the bucket.” Sources like House Bill 2017, the statewide transportation package passed last year and Metro’s Regional Flexible Funds were identified as possible sources.

The project is currently seeking out grant opportunities and talking with partners. At the workshop in June, Bob Stacey urged advocates to look into the Regional Transportation Plan and see what it says about issues relating to mobility and accessibility.

With all the talk about equity coming from our elected leaders, this is a clear opportunity for them to deliver.

For more information check out the final report, or contact Project Manager Kevin Chambers at kc@fullpath.io.

— Catie Gould (@Citizen_Cate) and Emily Guise (@Eguise): Read more from their Adventures in Activism column.

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21 Comments
  • Jon August 28, 2018 at 2:59 pm

    Based on what I read in the Trimet budget the LIFT program costs about $35 million for operations. The regular buses cost about $114 million (and carry 44 times the number of passengers). It looks like there are about 1 million LIFT rides per year which means each trip costs at least $35 per trip. When you factor in maintaining the LIFT buses and general admin costs it is probably closer $50 per trip. You could buy a lot of Uber rides for the cost of transporting the elderly and disabled on public transport.

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    • John Lascurettes August 28, 2018 at 3:02 pm

      And are the private contractors operating under Uber or Lyft able to accommodate people with mobility or other special needs? I don’t think so. Some might be able to be absorbed by Lyft/Uber at a lower cost, but not all rides. Not by a long shot.

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      • John Lascurettes August 28, 2018 at 3:04 pm

        Never mind the fact that you’re assuming everyone using Lyft/Uber has access to a smartphone and a data plan.

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      • Mike Mullins August 29, 2018 at 7:42 am

        You’re 100% correct.

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      • Gary B August 29, 2018 at 12:58 pm

        Clearly the solution isn’t as simple as “let them use Uber.” But I don’t think we should wholesale rule out a different approach. What if a user contacted this once-call-one-click service, who then dispatched a private for hire vehicle to them. Of course this couldn’t be any old Uber. So what if instead of spending tens of millions an a fleet of Lift buses and drivers, we subsidized a number of Uber vehicles specially outfitted for paratransit. Those vans could run regular rides when not doing their Lift duties, so it’d be an incremental cost absorbed by the paratransit system.

        Just spitballing for the sake of example. I know some municipalities are supplanting their transit system wholesale with a subsidized private service. I wouldn’t advocate that. But given the exorbitant costs of running a highly inefficient–and apparently far from ideal for its users–Lift system, it’s worth thinking about alternatives that could leverage some of the good things about ride-hailing

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    • Chris I August 28, 2018 at 6:02 pm

      I agree that LIFT is expensive, but citing Uber, and unprofitable company who’s majority of drivers can’t transport those with mobility issues, as a viable alternative seems silly.

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    • John Liu August 28, 2018 at 9:17 pm

      Who is the target user of LIFT? My understanding from its website is that it is not all mobility-disabled persons. It is specifically persons whose

      “physical and/or mental impairment might prevent them from:
      getting to and from bus stops or MAX stations
      waiting at a stop or station
      boarding and exiting
      understanding and remembering how to use the services
      finding their way”

      That’s a quote from the website, but I’m asking as a practical matter what sort of conditions that describes.

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      • Chris I August 29, 2018 at 8:01 am

        If they can’t find their way to a bus stop and handle waiting/boarding a bus, how are they going to hail Uber/Lyft on a smartphone app, walk to a corner, and find some random dude in an unmarked vehicle?

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        • maxD August 29, 2018 at 9:44 am

          I wholeheartedly agree taht uber/lyft are not any kind of solution- they are operating at a loss in an attempt to gain a monopoly in the transportation sector at which point they will raise their prices. However, the vehicles TriMet is using seem super expensive. It seems like they could smaller, less expensive vehicles to their fleet, provided they do enough out and back runs.

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    • Jon August 29, 2018 at 8:28 am

      The point is this service is extremely expensive and the cost per user would seem to indicate that there is room to both reduce costs and improve service. Adding another layer of government bureaucracy and additional program costs is not the right direction.

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      • soren August 29, 2018 at 5:59 pm

        LIFT is expensive, inefficient, and abusive precisely because Trimet decided not to add another “layer of government bureaucracy” and instead contracted this service out to the predatory private sector. Trimet badly needs to be de-corporatized and transformed into a transparent public agency with a board that is directly accountable to users and voters.

        “LIFT passenger Nico Serra agreed. “For a handful of years I used TriMet LIFT, but I stopped using it because being on the bus is so physically demanding,” he said. “I’ve been stuck on TriMet [LIFT] buses for over four hours on some occasions.” Serra, who uses a wheelchair, said that LIFT consistently made him late for doctor appointments. ”

        “Other local transit systems, like C-Tran in Vancouver, have avoided these problems with their paratransit services by not working with subcontractors. Jill Carillo, a driver for C-Van, Vancouver’s LIFT equivalent, says the differences between her service and TriMet are “night and day.”

        https://www.portlandmercury.com/news/2018/05/23/20043766/trimets-lift-accused-of-inhumane-treatment-of-passengers-and-drivers

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  • q August 28, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    Along with what the article describes, I hope some focus goes into ensuring accessibility of sidewalks and paths. Rides don’t help much if you can’t get to or from the ride.

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  • Jim Lee August 28, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    Legs, bike, TriMet pass have provided me excellent mobility since retirement.

    None of us needs a “smart-phone” with a “data plan.” A flip phone readily connects to TriMet’s “Transit Tracker” to tell when the next bus arrives.

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    • Gary B August 29, 2018 at 12:49 pm

      Is there any possibility this isn’t about you?

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  • Toby Keith August 28, 2018 at 7:01 pm

    “Second-class”…gee something us east Portland residents have experienced for quite some time now. But our tax money is sure good.

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  • Sam Peterson August 28, 2018 at 9:21 pm

    Let’s paint the bike lanes solid white and call them ‘privilege lanes.’

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    • soren August 29, 2018 at 6:00 pm

      ableist bigotry.

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  • J. Dawg August 30, 2018 at 10:27 am

    I am a rider of TriMet lift due to being too big to drive. Not blaming anyone for that but myself and I am taking steps to get out of this place in my life. I am grateful for LIFT’s existence but may need to stop using it because at my size, riding on the bus for four hours to get to a doctor appointment on the other side of the river causes me medical problems in itself. I have sometimes had to spend the rest of the day in bed due to the horrible suspension on those busses delivering a steady barrage of jolts to my spine for rides as long as two and a half hours one way. I had to turn down a daily exercise program I was offered at OHSU because riding home from there I was taken to Milwaukee, Gladstone, Happy Valley and Damascus for hours on the ride back to my home in Portland. There was no way I could have handled those kinds of rides on a daily basis. After taking a couple months off of LIFT tentatively tried coming back for a doctor appointment and again had one of those Biblical length rides home, after which I got hemorrhoids so painful I couldn’t sleep last night. I realize my physical condition is my fault but for other people who did nothing wrong to end up needing this service, the pain caused by these rides has got to make some people leave the house a lot less often than they would like to. I am going to have to quit my only social group and stay home because these painfully epic length LIFT rides make it not worth leaving the house.

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