Newsroom | Program Helps Rural Arizonans Get to Where They Need to Go

MAG News

Rural Transportation Project a model of success. The Rural Transportation Incubator (RTI) is part of Age Friendly Arizona, a multidisciplinary partnership hosted by the Maricopa Association of Governments.

Rural Transportation Project a model of success

Transportation, Aging

As we age, the things we used to take for granted, like leaving the house, can become a challenge. Imagine not being able to get to the store, the doctor’s office, or even to a place where you can talk to other people. That’s the reality for many older people across Arizona and the country.

A project is helping Arizonans in rural areas of the state get the help they need. The Rural Transportation Incubator (RTI) is part of Age Friendly Arizona, a multidisciplinary partnership hosted by the Maricopa Association of Governments. The RTI has been so successful in its objectives that it is now being hailed as an example for other local transportation agencies to follow by the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center.

Providing Flexibility

Tod Morris is the regional mobility manager and planner with the Northern Arizona Council of Governments. He shared his thoughts on how the RTI project helped Northern Arizona agencies over the past two years.

“What the Rural Transportation Incubator did was provide flexibility and expedited time frames versus traditional transportation funding sources,” said Morris. “That added flexibility and shortened time frame really spurred some enhancements. I think the guidance provided a really clear and easily flexible way to implement some of those toolkit recommendations.”

Adapting To Change

That flexibility allowed agencies to shift their focus quickly and get their hands on much-needed transportation faster than ever before.

Tod Morris celebrated the success of one such group. “It was great that we had an agency that instead of having to wait for vehicles to arrive to start-up service, they were able to utilize this funding with the added flexibility to go purchase an older van but to get service started up in half the timeline.”

The ability that RTI gives agencies came into play during the pandemic. Being able to mobilize and change priorities quickly was essential. Groups providing rural transportation services shifted focus from transporting older adults to appointments and social gatherings to bringing necessary food, water, and medicine to them instead.

“Northern Arizona agencies were definitely faced with a tremendous amount of challenges, especially with some of the tribal organizations when COVID really hit those areas hard early on,” said Morris. “But a lot of those transportation agencies were able to adapt and learn on the fly, and then became a model for practices throughout the state.”

Kim Gill, Executive Director of the Volunteer Interfaith Caregiver Program in Sierra Vista says RTI helped people in Southern Arizona as well.

“One of my favorite aspects of being a part of this program was the networking with other agencies and the informal partnership that we created with our local Salvation Army for food box and commodities deliveries,” she said. “The RTI program enabled us to do so much more than we ever dreamed of before.”

A Model of Success

It’s not just Arizona that has recognized the success of RTI. At the national level, the Rural Transportation Incubator is recognized as a case study and a successful model. The National Aging and Disability Transportation Center uses RTI as an example for other agencies across the country as part of several toolkits it distributes nationwide.

RTI recently completed a two-year grant from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and is seeking funding for another year. There are plans in the works for a statewide conference in 2022 to share lessons learned over the past two years and celebrate the success of the RTI program.

Five key facts from the final report on the Rural Transportation Incubator include:

  • Providing nearly 70,000 rides to meet critical needs such as medical care.
  • Launching Arizona’s first interactive inventory of all human services transportation providers with phone support.
  • Serving 12 communities with stable support through transportation stipends, technology stipends, eight workshops, and ongoing technical assistance.
  • Reaching nine national audiences through conference presentations, webinars, and site visits.
  • Developing two tool kits to promote key lessons learned nationwide.

For agencies in Arizona, the success of the Rural Transportation Incubator has been a lifesaver.

Kim Gill summed it up by saying. “The partnerships, camaraderie, networking, and opportunities to learn from other organizations were an invaluable part of the RTI program. All of it allowed us to reach more homebound, elderly, and disabled folks in our community and help in whatever way we could. It may seem small to some, but for those we served, it meant the world.”

Published June 21, 2022