Tri-county council works to address transportation needs
Area problem calls for regional solution
Meeting local transportation needs has long been a challenge for rural communities like the Southern Maryland.
With the help of partners from all three counties, the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland is working to develop a regional solution to address local transportation needs.
The goal is offer more options for the vulnerable population who lack means to access health care and employment, said Nicky Pires, regional transit coordinator of the council. Seniors, veterans and people with low income in the region are the primary audience for the initiative.
Health advocates say the need for access to care is ever growing as health costs rise and the population ages, an issue only compounded with the ongoing opioid crisis.
“Transportation is an overarching need that impacts a lot of partners and community members,” said Jenna Mulliken, the St. Mary’s County Health Department’s local health improvement coordinator, who provides support for the St. Mary’s Healthy Partnership’s action teams.
Whenever focus groups or surveys are being done, Mulliken said, the transportation problem “is always something that’s brought up.”
Because the issue is so large and dependent on built-in environments, a collaboration built upon regional partnership is necessary, she said.
As a quasi-governmental regional planning agency based in Hughesville, the tri-county council received a rural Maryland prosperity investment fund of $50,000 from the Rural Maryland Council. The grant is used to fund a design thinking process to come up with a regional solution to meet the transportation needs in the tri-county area.
A second grant of $56,000 is expected to come around September and it will be used to launch a pilot program in the spring, according to Pires.
After months of discussions, the partnership has worked out the concept of a pilot program that aims to optimize resources to increase utilization of existing services.
Pires said local nonprofit agencies such as the Center for Life Enrichment, The Arc Southern Maryland and Bay Community Support Services each offer their own transportation ser vices.
With the desire to provide coordinated, door-to-door service, Pires said the pilot project hopes to build a web-based system that can be shared among the three organizations mentioned above and non-profit Lifestyles of Maryland.
Collectively the four nonprofit groups have between 50 and 60 vehicles, Pires said. But they are not being used to their full capacity.
Pires said the goal is to no longer see an empty van picking up one person but to have the same van picking up young people, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities.
Through providing ride-sharing software licenses, automatic vehicle locator tablets and volunteer insurances to service providers, the project hopes to break down the barriers and make it easier for local providers to coordinate services and increase efficiency.
For example, the platform could consolidate some routes which could free up resources and lead to more routes in less reached areas such as Ridge or Piney Point, Pires said.
With new software and technology, the envisioned platform would not only make it easier for providers to communicate with each other, but also more convenient for riders to see the status of their buses on their smartphones.
Pires said the four partners involved in the pilot project are looking into quotes for insurances now and will move on to software later. They are also recruiting volunteer drivers.
Pires encourages interested persons to contact Lifestyles of Maryland at 301-609-9900, or to call her directly at 301-274-1922, ext. *825.