MSCOD Transportation Position Paper
The Minnesota State Council on Disability (MSCOD) collaborates, advocates, advises and provides information to expand opportunities, improve the quality of life and empower all persons with disabilities. By statute, MSCOD advises and aids the governor, legislature, state agencies, and the general public on services, programs and legislation pertaining to persons with a disability. MSCOD works closely with constituents to identify issues, craft language, educate policymakers, and pass laws that have a meaningful, positive impact in the disability community.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) Greater Minnesota Transit Plan 2010-2030 aims to meet at least 80% of transit needs by 2015, and at least 90% of transit needs by 2025. In 2001, MNDOT originally set the goal of meeting 80% of transit needs by 2010, but currently estimates that they have only met 58% of the demand in Greater Minnesota. Minnesotans with disabilities are deeply affected by this service gap. MSCOD strongly supports MNDOT’s goals and recommends that the necessary funds be appropriated for full implementation of MNDOT’s plan.
In many parts of Greater Minnesota, public transit service is limited or nonexistent, particularly during evening hours and weekends. Many transit services are offered for fewer than 10 hours per day on weekdays. Weekend services are scarce; even some of the largerMinnesotacities, such asRochesterandMankato, do not have Sunday service. As of 2011, two counties (Wilkin and Waseca) still do not have any public transportation services. In addition, eight counties contain cities with city service but do not have county-wide service (Clearwater, Cass, Nicollet, LeSueur, Rice, Blue Earth, Freeborn, and Olmsted). GreaterMinnesota’s transit issues will become more pressing in light of projections that the proportion of residents living in Central Minnesota (specifically,St. Cloudand surrounding areas) will increase from 12% to 17% in the next thirty years.
Meanwhile, the transit needs in Greater Minnesota continue to increase, strongly impacting the aging and disability communities. People with disabilities make up 15-20% of the population in most Greater Minnesota areas. The negative effects of the lack of daily transit in outstate Minnesota are only going to have a deeper and more pronounced effect on statewide community life as the “baby boomer” generation ages. In 2000, 50-60% of transit users in ruralMinnesotawere 65 years or older. Without available and accessible public transit, many people who are aging or have disabilities cannot maintain employment, run errands, enjoy recreational opportunities, or patronize local businesses. This transit shortage negatively affects both the strength of local economies and the quality of life of Minnesotans with disabilities.
The Minnesota Medicare Infrastructure Grant (MIG) through Pathways to Employment is slated to end in 2010, so engagingMinnesotacommunities in transportation dialogues has been incorporated in MNDOT’s Investment Plans. This outreach will increase the ability of Minnesotans to be active citizens and involved advocates for their own transportation needs. It will also as increase MNDOT’s awareness of consumer needs and its ability to meet those needs effectively.
In light of the current economic crisis, MNDOT’s current primary focus is simply to preserve existing services. If new state or federal financial resources become available, new service will begin in unserved areas and current service will be expanded. MSCOD endorses that focus, as the maintenance of existing baseline transit services is especially crucial in these difficult economic times. Without those services, many people with disabilities would be effectively stranded in their homes. However, MSCOD strongly supports the additional appropriation of those necessary resources to expand transit service. Without new and expanded transit service, many people with disabilities will remain unable to pursue the most basic activities of everyday life outside the home.
The State ofMinnesotaprovides extended transportation services for Minnesotans with disabilities who are not able to use Metro Transit or Metro Mobility. Special Transportation Services (STS), the most extensive of the services, is considered by the Minnesota Department of Human Services to be a “door-through-door” service. Licensed drivers ensure that a passenger comes from his/her original location into his/her destination. Access Transportation Services (ATS) are less intensive – and expensive – than STS. The Minnesota Department of Human Services considers STS “curb-to-curb” services for Minnesotans who are ambulatory to some degree, but still need some assistance. ATS drivers are often volunteers and may use personal vehicles.
These necessary programs come with their own challenges. For example, a person using an electric wheelchair can be denied STS in favor of ATS, on the basis that she can get through doors under her own power. Yet in many areas (particularly ruralMinnesota), ATS services are provided by volunteers, many of whom use their own personal vehicles, which are often not accessible for wheelchair users. Additionally, some STS providers with accessible vans will not provide ATS because the reimbursement rate is lower.
STS/ATS assessments also present some significant issues. The assessments are performed over the phone with a standard set of 12-14 questions. If an applicant has trouble with the questions or with using a telephone, (s)he can be wrongfully denied services. Some such denials have been fought and overturned in court. The assessments may also present a conflict of interest. In the 11-county metro area and a few additional counties, the contracted provider organization that performs the eligibility assessments also manages the ATS services. These organizations receive a financial benefit when applicants are referred to ATS rather than STS.
MSCOD supports fully accessible public transportation for all Minnesotans. Either ATS must guarantee completely accessible transportation to all its users, or the criteria for STS must be expanded to include those users who require accessible transportation. Access Transportation Services cannot be truly effective if people using wheelchairs may not access them.
Particularly outside the metro area,Minnesotapublic transportation is suffering both in accessibility and availability. Without more specific and enforceable statewide standards of accessibility and increased availability of funds to create and expand transit service, many Minnesotans with disabilities are prevented from accessing these basic public services. Available and accessible transportation is interconnected with many other important issues that affect people with disabilities. Without transportation, it is impossible to obtain and maintain employment or access medical care.
MNDOT’s primary barrier to meeting 80% of projected transit needs is a lack of financial resources. MNDOT projects that in 2030 it will cost $184 million dollars to meet 80% of demand in Greater Minnesota; three times more than its 2008 cost of $54 million. To meet the same demand goals, service hours would need to increase from 2008’s level of 1,015 to 1,728 in 2030. More stable sources of funding must be dedicated to transit to enable MNDOT to pursue its goals of new and expanded transit to meet consumer demand. As MNDOT transitions toward becoming fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, MSCOD advocates prioritizing the expansion of new and extended transit services for all Minnesotans. MNDOT and the State Legislature must actively seek additional state and federal funding towards those ends.
MNDOT should continue to examine additional ways of improving efficiency (e.g. through service coordination, etc), but its greatest challenge is the current lack of funds needed to close the substantial gap in service. As transportation is an issue that directly affects the lives and livelihoods of so many Minnesotans, the transit shortage must be addressed as a priority issue. Funds should be provided to MNDOT for completion of its Greater Minnesota Transit Plan.
We acknowledge the steps that are currently being taken to improve transit access policy. From the recent legislative session, we applaud and support the Legislature’s approach of Complete Streets policy, as well as the creation of the Minnesota Council on Transportation Access, which will include a MSCOD representative as a member. This new Council will continue and further the work of the Governor’s initiative, the Interagency Committee on Transit Coordination (ICTC). Both of these new policies are directed toward expanding access to state transportation and roads for transit users of all needs and abilities, and we hope to see positive results from their implementation.
The issue of accessible, available transportation reaches far beyond the disability community alone. For further advocacy efforts, a coalition may need to be developed with other organizations whose stakeholders would also have a strong interest in expanding transit: other organizations in the disability community, organizations for people who are aging, organizations focused on ruralMinnesota, organizations for low-income workers, environmental organizations, etc. As MSCOD includes representatives from all regions ofMinnesota, MSCOD has the opportunity to communicate with lawmakers across the state, representing a wide range of constituents. As communities of Minnesotans join together to prioritize outstate public transit, funds should be appropriated to meet MNDOT’s goals and expand transit opportunities for all Minnesotans.