Upgrades under way (hopefully) for rural transit program for poor, elderly, disabled

By David Pendered

State transportation officials are working to improve the program that transports the poor, elderly and disabled from their home to health care in rural Georgia.

This effort doesn’t garner the high level attention of the companion program to ease gridlock and enhance transit in urban areas. The headline-grabbing transportation mobility program is to lead to a vote next year on a proposed penny sales tax to pay for upgrades in metro Atlanta and other regions statewide.

The rural and human services transit program serves mostly the poor, old, and/or disabled. It’s funded at about $138 million a year to provide a patchwork quilt of transit services, mainly to health care facilities.

The transit services are provided mainly through three state departments that do not coordinate their services or report to a single oversight agency, according to the report.

Given the absence of a central reporting agency, the effort to improve the level and quality of services has started with a review of services that exist today. The work is being shepherded by the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority through its related role as the Governor’s Development Council.

The board that oversees GRTA heard an update at its June 8 meeting. The draft report now being refined is due Sept. 1 to the state Office of Planning and Budget, which is the entity that helps the governor draft a proposed state budget for delivery to the Legislature.

One telling point about the rural transit program is that the report does not specify the number of individuals who are served. Demographic information of the clients is not available, the report states.

However, the report states that a “reasonable estimate” of the clients could be determined based on the primary beneficiaries of the various funding sources. The estimate shows the client base includes:

  • Low-income – 24 percent;
  • Mental or physical disabilities – 24 percent;
  • Children or youth – 24 percent;
  • Seniors – 23 percent.

The state can estimate the purpose of the trips based on a similar review of funding sources. The purposes apparently include trips to:

  • Medical appointments – 62 percent;
  • Education and job training – 16 percent;
  • Employment – 12 percent;
  • Social services – 6 percent.

Al Nash, the GRTA board member who oversees the authority’s committee on rural transit services, identified three key take-aways of the draft report:

  • The state spends about $138 million a year to provide rural transit services;
  • About $100 million of the expenditure is provided by the federal government;
  • Services are provided, in part, by 114 transit systems in Georgia.

“One of our faults is that we don’t have a lot of coordination and efficiencies in those [services],” Nash told the board.

The Legislature, in ordering the evaluation of rural and human services transport, presumed the program could be improved. The draft report suggests that one likely possibility is to better coordinate the transit systems.

If a central oversight program did nothing else, it could require that transport vehicle be inspected by just one agency. That would eliminate the multiple inspections some carriers are required to undergo when they participate in programs funded by different agencies, the report stated.

The report notes that three state agencies are involved in the rural transport program:

  • Department of Transportation;
  • Department of Human Services;
  • Department of Community Health.

The report states: “It is the sheer number of funding sources that are at the root of Georgia’s coordination issues and are a primary cause of inefficiencies in [rural transit service] delivery.

“The fact that several state agencies administer these programs with their own [transport] delivery models perpetuates some of these inefficiencies.”

GRTA board Chairman Sony Deriso said the draft report will continue to be refined before its final review by the GRTA board in August. The schedule will provide for an on-time delivery to the state budget office, he said.

“This is a great example of a lot of different agencies coming together in ways they’ve not come together before to try to work out ways to benefit citizens for whom they are delivering those services,” Deriso said.

Click here to read: Funding sources of rural and human services transport in Georgia.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

1 reply
  1. John says:

    This is an important, though little-noticed, effort to evaluate and recommend improvements in how state-level transportation services and funding work together — or don’t work together. Similar efforts in other states have yielded improvements in transportation service efficienies and effectiveness.

    While its study will show initial results and “no-brainer” recommendations in the more visible rural transporation needs and improvement areas, it will benefit urban transportation as well, especially for seniors and those with disabilities. These latter two groups helped get the legislation passed to require this coordination effort, which as David pointed out was part of the TIA law in 2010. Good reporting!!Report


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?